The account continues: “And Jacob parted the sheep, and he put the faces of the flock to the striped, and all of the black in Laban’s flock. And he set his own droves by themselves, and did not put them on Laban’s flock.” 1
This verse is about parting and turning faces, which is also what happens to the chain of amino acids that make up the newly manufactured protein. Once the ribosome encounters a stop codon, the chain is complete, and it is detached from the ribosome. In our analogy, the sheep get “parted.”
After that, the protein usually folds into a particular shape that will eventually form part of the machinery of the body. These shapes often contain structures known as “alpha helices” and “beta sheets.” The alpha helix forms a spiral shape, which actually looks striped. Turning the faces of the sheep likely represents the process of protein folding.
However, even if we simply take the account at face value, Jacob seems to be aiming for some kind of artificial selection, which is itself a biological process. In other words, the plain meaning of the account provides corroborating evidence that we are also correct about its deeper meaning.
The account continues: “And it came about that whenever the strong ones of the flock conceived, and Jacob put the sticks before the eyes of the flock in the troughs, they would conceive in the sticks. But he did not put in the weak of the flock. And so the weak ones went to Laban, and the strong ones to Jacob.” 2
This matches up with the process of RNA splicing, where the parts of the mRNA strand that do not code for the protein are cut out, and therefore “not put in” the ribosome. The removed parts are called “introns.” However, introns can have other functions, such as encoding useful RNA molecules. The weak of the flock could therefore represent introns, and the strong could represent the parts, called “exons,” that actually code for the protein.
However, this part of the account perhaps also contains a message for biologists who believe that life arose by itself. It sounds remarkably like the evolutionary concept of “survival of the fittest,” except that Jacob is deliberately selecting the fittest. It is artificial selection rather than natural selection. But it’s still selection for fitness. In other words, the plain account confirms that we are talking about biological processes, by alluding to one of the key ideas in modern biology.
Not surprisingly, Laban’s sons complain about Jacob. They say: “Jacob has taken everything that was our father’s, and from what our father has made, all of this glory.” 3 Although most translations don’t use the word “made” here, the Hebrew word used in this verse is the same as the one used in the creation account at the beginning of the same book, where “God saw everything that he had made.” 4 Indeed, the three Hebrew words that make up the phrase “everything that he had made” (kl ashr oshe) are also used by Laban’s sons.
By another “coincidence,” the chapter and verse numbers are reversed. “God saw everything that he had made” is in Genesis 1:31, and the sons of Laban say that he “has taken everything that was our father’s, and from what our father has made” in Genesis 31:1.
Perhaps this is to highlight that the same complaint made against Jacob can also be laid against modern biologists. By claiming that the molecular processes we have discussed arose on their own through mutations and natural selection, they have also “taken everything that was our father’s, and from what our father has made, all of this glory.”
As if to reinforce the point, Jacob then describes something which sounds like an analogy for mutations. Speaking to his wives Rachel and Leah about Laban, he says: “Your father has mocked me, and changed my wages ten times, but God has not allowed him to do bad to me. If therefore he said, ‘the speckled shall be your wages,’ all of the flock gave birth to speckled ones; and if therefore he said, ‘the striped shall be your wages,’ all of the flock gave birth to striped ones. And God has delivered the livestock of your father and given them to me. And it came about, at the time when the flock came to conceive, that I lifted up my eyes and I saw in a dream, and look! the male goats which went up on the flock were striped, speckled and dappled ones.” 5
Earlier on I said that the “striped, speckled and spotted ones” represented a protein produced by a ribosome. But here, Jacob talks about “striped, speckled and dappled ones.” Spotted has been replaced with dappled. His wages had also been changed “ten times.” This passage makes a good analogy for mutations, which are changes in the coding sequence that could result in changes to a protein. Mutations are a cause of disease, but supposedly also one of the key drivers of evolution.
If Jacob’s life with Laban was also designed to be an extended analogy for DNA and various other molecular biological processes, then the message here is that mutations do indeed happen, but they are usually harmful. In the case of Jacob, his family were shielded from the harmful effects. This should not be surprising, given that Jacob was the human father of the nation of Israel.
In the end, Jacob and his family leave Laban after Jacob had worked for him for 20 years, which is the same number of amino acids that are directly coded for in DNA. We could continue our search for biological analogies, and we would find intriguing parallels to error correcting and cell division, which I will discuss in the second part of this letter. However, I will include just one more analogy for now, because it seems to suggest that YHWH has a sense of humor, as well as foreknowledge of what we would name the two bases that get switched in the process of transcribing DNA into RNA.
One chapter later, in a curious account, as they were leaving Laban, Jacob took his family over the ford of Jabbok, and then “Jacob was left by himself, and a man wrestled with him until dawn arose. And he saw that he had not prevailed against him, and he touched the hollow of his thigh, and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was dislocated as he wrestled with him.” 6
It is curious that the Hebrew word for Jabbok (ibq) and the word for wrestled (iabq) is quite close, with one letter added on the left hand side. Maybe the place was named after the event. Also, the word here translated “hollow” (kph) actually refers to the palm of the hand, or sometimes the sole of the foot. At the very least, that Jacob is “left by himself” and that the man touches the hollow or “hand” of Jacob’s thigh, could be a useful teaching aid to remind us that all of the amino acids used by life are exclusively left-handed.
During this strange encounter, the man asked Jacob to let him go, because dawn was coming up, but Jacob said he wouldn’t until the man blessed him. The man did so, and also renamed Jacob to Israel, “for you are upright with God and with men, and you have prevailed.” 7
Now, when we read accounts like this, no wonder skeptics have a problem with the Bible. What is a seemingly random wrestling match doing in a solemn scene where Jacob is taking his family away from Laban, and is worried about being attacked by his brother Esau?
For one, the encounter would stay in Jacob’s memory, not only because of the injury, but also because the man renamed him Israel, which is what God also does a little later. Indeed, the encounter was so remarkable to Jacob that he named the site after it. “And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, ‘because I saw God face to face, and my soul was delivered.’ And the sun rose upon him when he passed Penuel, and he limped upon his thigh.” 8
Curiously, Jacob calls it Peniel (phnial), meaning “Face of God,” but immediately afterwards, the account calls it Penuel (phnual). In Hebrew, the middle letter has been replaced. I would like to suggest that the switch from Peniel to Penuel, and even the whole wrestling match, was orchestrated in part to be a teaching aid for us, as a way for us to remember the names of the bases that get switched between DNA and RNA. Their names are thymine (T) and uracil (U). The thymine base used in DNA is replaced with the uracil base in RNA.
To remember them, simply picture the two men wrestling. Jacob sees his thigh – THIGH MINE (thymine) – and then looks over to the man wrestling with him – YOU WRESTLE (uracil). Furthermore, the switch from Peniel to Penuel can also help us remember the order. “I” rhymes with “thigh” and “U” is for “uracil.”
Incidentally, organic chemists may also find this account useful. The “phenyl group,” which sounds like Peniel (phnial), is considered to be a benzene ring, minus a hydrogen, like Jacob and his dislocated thigh. One of the amino acids, phenylalanine, is named because it contains a phenyl group. Phenylalanine is coded for in mRNA by UUU or UUC. In other words, three uracil bases represent phenylalanine in the biological code of our bodies, just as Jacob’s wrestling caused him to name the place Peniel.
The word “phenyl” derives from the Greek phaino, or “shining,” which can be linked with the sun rising upon Jacob. This would also help to explain why the man who wrestled with Jacob wanted to leave when dawn ascended. If he was actually playing out a drama for our benefit, he couldn’t have Jacob ruining it by extending the wrestling match. It had to end when the sun rose over Jacob, to link it to the modern word “phenyl.” We can only speculate about what shape Jacob would have been in, had God wanted to teach us the whole of organic chemistry!
Now, let me sum up what I have discussed in the last several chapters. I have shown that the “Jacob’s Ladder” dream serves as a remarkably accurate analogy for the primary and secondary structures of DNA.
Jacob’s encounter with the three droves lying at the well near Haran serves as a good analogy for how the codons in DNA need to be translated into RNA before the information can become useful.
I have shown that Jacob’s four wives are paired, as an analogy for how the four DNA bases are paired. Leah and her maidservant Zilpah, and Rachel and her maidservant Bilhah, represent the DNA bases adenine (A) which is paired with thymine (T), and guanine (G) which is paired with cytosine (C). Jacob’s twelve sons also come in pairs in relation to each wife, corresponding to how the bases come in pairs within DNA.
I have shown how Jacob’s wages correspond to the transcription process that turns a segment of DNA into messenger RNA, with Laban separating the flock into male and female as an analogy for the two types of bases called purines and pyrimidines, and switching “speckled” to “striped” as an analogy for how the thymine (T) base used by DNA is switched to uracil (U) in RNA.
I have demonstrated that Jacob’s shepherding of the flock with the sticks in the troughs and water basins serves as a remarkably accurate analogy for how mRNA, tRNA, amino acids and the ribosome work together to convert a strand of mRNA into a protein, in the process called translation.
I have also shown how the account alludes to biological concepts such as mutation and selection, but with a subtle rebuke to biologists, who have taken everything God has made, all of its glory, and have attributed it to these processes.
Finally, I have shown that Jacob being left on his own, and his unusual wrestling match where his thigh was put out of joint, can be used as a teaching aid, to remind us that the amino acids used by life are all left-handed, and as a way to remember the names of the bases thymine and uracil that are switched in the change from DNA to RNA.
All of this can be found in just five chapters of the book of Genesis, involving one man, Jacob, whom God renamed Israel, during his life in Padan-Aram. I am suggesting that the ability to make all of these analogies so close together is not mere coincidence. Instead, the events described, starting with Jacob’s dream of the ladder, must have been orchestrated by God so they could serve as analogies for biological processes only discovered by modern science, as additional proof of God’s existence. And there are several more analogies we can make, which I will discuss in the second half of this letter.
At the top of the stairway Jacob dreamed about was YHWH himself. It’s as if God knew biologists would leave him out of the picture, just as physicists have done in their field. Therefore, for thousands of years, God has been patiently sitting at the top of the ladder, metaphorically speaking, waiting for the time when scientists would finally figure out the structure of DNA, and the basis of life itself.
I would suggest that the overall message, communicated symbolically through the events of Jacob’s life as he lived in Padan-Aram, is that DNA and its code didn’t come about by natural processes, but was designed by YHWH, the God of Jacob.
1 Genesis 30:40. 2 Genesis 30:41,42. 3 Genesis 31:1. 4 Genesis 1:31. 5 Genesis 31:7-10. 6 Genesis 32:24,25. 7 Genesis 32:28. 8 Genesis 32:30,31.