Read Genesis 30:1-24
In chapter 29 we saw the that the LORD had compassion on Leah. Because of the resentment or lack of love that Jacob had for her, God blessed Leah with four sons. Rachel, up to this point, has been barren. We also saw how God chastised Jacob. He gave Jacob a dose of his own medicine when Laban duped Jacob into marrying Leah. Finally we saw that basing our emotional response on our tiny limited perspective is a misguided misuse of our energies, because God’s plan is so big, that only He will ever be able to see the whole picture. (See previous post on Genesis 29 — When morning came, there was Leah!)
So Leah has given birth to four sons. And all this time Rachel hasn’t conceived. At that time, in that culture, an inability to bear children was a source of great shame to a woman. So perhaps not surprisingly, Rachel became distraught. She became jealous of Leah. She saw her sister’s success in child bearing as a detriment to herself personally. Jealousy is an interesting emotion. In some ways it’s the opposite of love. I love my kids. I love my wife. Consequently, I’m rooting for them, I’m excited to see them do well. Jealousy, on the other hand, results in just the opposite. When Rachel saw Leah doing well in bearing children, she wasn’t happy about it at all. On the contrary, she was filled with remorse, with bitterness, with jealousy.
(BTW, 1 John 4:8 tells us that God is love — He’s for you, He rejoices in your victories, it’s His desire to see you blessed, and He delights in seeing you do well. The Bible also tells us that God is a jealous God. (Exodus 20:5) However this is in the context of worshiping idols and shouldn’t be confused with the type of jealousy referred to in our story about Rachel and Leah. One of the definitions of jealousy is “vigilance in maintaining or guarding something.” (see Dictionary.com) That’s the type of jealousy that’s God’s. His jealousy is that of someone who loves us so much that He guards us jealously, against those other gods who would lead us astray. If your son or daughter came home and announced that they were completely enchanted by a man he or she met, who happens to be a leader in the Italian Cosa Nostra, (otherwise know as the Mafia), you’d jealously guard them against any further involvement! That’s the type of jealousy God has for me, and for you. I recently heard a celebrity say that she was turned off at a church service when she heard the pastor say that God is a jealous God. What a tragic misinterpretation of the meaning of the word, and a classic example of scripture taken out of context.)
So Rachel finds herself consumed with jealousy. As you and I might sometimes do, she’s looking for a convenient target upon which to express her frustration. And as you and I might sometimes do, she takes it out on her spouse, she says to Jacob, Give me babies! I’ll just die if you don’t!
Jacob becomes angry with her and replies, Am I God? I’m not the one who’s kept you from having children!
So Rachel, perhaps recognizing that her expectations of Jacob were amiss, says, Alright then, let’s do this, here’s Bilhah, my servant girl. Make love to her and she’ll bear children for me. I’ll build my family through her. (Having children “through” a woman’s servant was not an uncommon practice in that society, at that time)
So that’s what they did. Rachel gave Jacob Bilhah as his wife, and he slept with her. She conceived and gave birth to a son.
Rachel rejoiced, she said, God has vindicated me or judged in my favor; He’s heard my cries and given me a son. And she named him Dan which means, “judge” or “he has vindicated.”
Later, Bilhah conceives again and has a second son. Rachel says, I’ve had a tussle with my sister, and I’ve won. She named him Naphtali which means “my struggle.”
Now Leah sees that the tide has turned. Rachel, through her servant Bilhah, has born fruit a couple of times and during this period, Leah has been fruitless, with respect to childbearing. So she gives Jacob her servant girl, Zilpah, to be his wife. And Zilpah bears Jacob a son. Leah says, Another son, what good fortune! So she names him Gad, which means, “a troop is coming” or, it can also mean, “good fortune.”
Then Leah’s servant Zilpah bears Jacob a second son. And Leah says, I’m so happy! And the women will call me blessed or happy. So, she named him Asher, which means, “happy.”
“The women will call me blessed.” Leah thinks herself blessed if the women in town call her blessed. Both Leah and Rachel are caught up in a calamitous competition as well as a concern for what other people think creating a mess of the relationships in Jacob’s family.
So at this point, each servant of Leah and Rachel has born for Jacob two sons.
Then, in the fall, during the time of the wheat harvest, Leah’s son Reuben comes back from the fields with some mandrakes. Now these mandrakes were a type of weed found in Israel. The top looks somewhat similar to a tobacco plant and the root looks somewhat similar to a turnip, except that the roots often branch out in ways that make them resemble the shape of a person. Perhaps for that reason the superstitious ascribed magical qualities to the mandrake plant. Two of these qualities, falsely attributed, were that of increasing sexual desire and fertility. So when Leah’s son Reuben comes back from the fields with some mandrakes, Rachel’s jealous again, this time she’s jealous that Leah’s come into a supply of mandrakes.
Rachel, desiring some of those mandrakes, presumably to use them as an aphrodisiac with Jacob, says, Please, give me some of those mandrakes that your son Reuben brought in.
But Leah says, Isn’t it enough that you monopolize all of my husband’s time? You’ve taken him away from me. And now you want my mandrakes too?
All right, all right, if you give me the mandrakes, you can sleep with him tonight, Rachel says.
At the end of the day, as Jacob’s coming in from working the harvest, Leah comes out to meet him. She says, You’re sleeping with me tonight. Reuben found some mandrakes and I’ve traded them to Rachel for one night with you. I’ve hired you out. So he complied and he spent the night with Leah. (I find it amusing that Jacob doesn’t appear to have a whole lot of say in any of this)
God is again sensitive to Leah’s plight, and she becomes pregnant, and bears Jacob a son, the fifth from Leah. Leah says, (mistakenly, I believe), In reward for giving my servant to my husband, God has given me a son. So she names him Issachar, which sounds similar to the Hebrew word for reward.
Later, Leah becomes pregnant again, and gives Jacob a sixth son. She says, God’s given me a precious gift. Now that I’ve given him six sons, my husband will treat me with honor. So she named him Zebulun, which means, “honor.”
Later she gave birth to, Jacob and Leah’s last child, a daughter. She named her Dinah. It’s not surprising that Dinah is given the least amount of ink here in the Old Testament scriptures. In those times, women weren’t valued the way they are today. It’s through Jesus’ influence that the cultural patterns have been changed. He’s the One who’s brought us to the place where no sex is superior. Are the sexes different? Of course. But is one superior over the other? No. Through Christ we’ve come to recognize the equality of not just the sexes, but of everyone. The thing that God hates is an attitude of one person lifting himself or herself over another. It’s an attitude that the LORD detests. There are similarities in all of us, we all have value in God’s sight and we’ve all sinned. We’re equal in Christ. Check it out for yourself. Of all the religions in the world, it’s the Christian nations that are the ones that give the greatest respect to women. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28) (Chuck Smith)
So Leah’s given birth to seven children, and it would seem that poor Rachel will never give Jacob any sons or daughters other than those that might come through her servant. But God, He remembers Rachel, and He listens to her pleas, and finally, after all this time, He provides for Rachel a son. She gives birth and says, God has taken away my disgrace. She named him Joseph which means, “may he add,” because she said, May the LORD add to me another son. A sad commentary on human nature — God gives Rachel a son and her response is, “may he add,” or, give me more.
Look to Christ and do your part
So what do you think, about Rachel’s expectations of Jacob? When she demanded, Give me children, or I’ll die! Is that realistic? Jacob’s already had four sons with Leah, so everybody including Rachel knows that he’s biologically capable, he’s fertile. Rachel’s expectations of Jacob are completely misplaced. Her fulfillment doesn’t lie with Jacob.
Another person who had unrealistic expectations is found in the story of Namaan, the Syrian General, a man whom the Bible says was a valiant soldier. (2 Kings 5:1) He was in charge of all the armies of Syria which would be similar to the rank of Colin Powell when he served as the Secretary of Defense for the United States. Namaan was a man of high rank and great renown but he was also a leper. Now an Israeli slave girl, who served Namaan’s wife, mentioned that Namaan could be healed of his leprosy, if he would only go to Israel and seek out the prophet of God, Elisha. Namaan, did as the Israeli girl said to — sort of. He went to the king of Israel, instead of to God’s prophet. He had a letter in hand from the king of Syria directing the king of Israel to heal Namaan. The king of Israel’s response? He tore his clothes and said, Am I God, that I can heal this guy? (Sound familiar?) Namaan was putting his hope in the wrong person. His expectation was that a great general like himself would receive what he needed from the head of the Israeli nation, not from God through his prophet Elisha.
So the prophet Elisha hears about Namaan and tells the king of Israel to send him on over. So Namaan, the great general, arrives at Elisha’s place and expects, I imagine, to be welcomed like a great dignitary. But Elisha doesn’t even come out of the house. Instead he sends a servant to tell Namaan to wash in the Jordan river seven times.
Namaan is livid! He didn’t get the reception he expected, and he didn’t get the remedy he expected either. Elisha didn’t bestow upon Namaan the keys to the city. Elisha didn’t lay hands on him and call out to heaven with great fanfare. Elisha didn’t even show up!
So the king wasn’t the only person in whom Namaan mistakenly put his hope, he also put his hope in a face to face meeting with Elisha. With his expectations violated and left only with the instructions from Elisha’s servant to wash in the Jordan, Namaan tells his entourage to pack up and head for home.
Then some of his servants say something that makes quite a lot of sense: Hey Namaan, they say. What if you were to just do what you’re supposed to do. I mean, if the king of Israel, or the prophet Elisha had given you some elaborate and difficult task to accomplish in order to be healed, wouldn’t you have done it? So what do you have to lose? Why not just do your part? Why not just do what you’re supposed to, wash in the Jordan seven times, and see what happens?
So Namaan does what he’s supposed to do, what the LORD through Elisha told him to do, and Namaan is healed of his leprosy.
The whole point is this, initially Naaman mistakenly put his hope in the wrong people. The king wasn’t where the answer would be found, and really, even Elisha, in and of himself, didn’t have the answer. Initially Naaman had some unrealistic expectations, but eventually, he did what he was supposed to do. Eventually, he focused on his part. And the LORD healed him. Rachel, rather than getting hung up on what she expects of Jacob, and what she hopes for Leah, no more kids, would have done well to focus on the LORD and what He has in mind for her. Children are a heritage from the LORD, offspring a reward from him. (Psalm 127:3) The LORD is the key, not Jacob. It may take awhile, it took Namaan seven baths in the Jordan river, it might take seven weeks, or seven months, or seven years for Rachel to become pregnant. Or she might bear fruit in a way that she never even expected. But the only thing for her to do is to focus on God and what He would have her do. That’s our lot: to obey, and to wait, and to put our hope in Him. (John 14:15, Psalm 27:14)
I know a thirty something whose company relocated from Oregon to Southern California at the end of 2011. He was offered the opportunity to relocate but, like most of the other employees at this particular company, what they offered made the move financially undo-able. So he faithfully continued to work at this place without resentment, giving his best right to the end of his tenure. Then he poured his energy into finding a new job, researching the job market thoroughly, carefully crafting a resume, reaching out to his network, submitting applications, he’s doing what he knows the LORD would have him do. I don’t hear him talking badly about his former employer. With his eyes on Christ, he’s focused on doing his part, taking care of his end. It’s been awhile but his efforts are starting to bear fruit. In fact he has an interview on Monday, and requests from recruiters are starting to come in.
In contrast to Rachel, Hannah is a great example of someone who responded well to her barren condition. Comparing the two: Rachel was jealous of Leah; Hannah wept unto the LORD. Rachel nags and badgers Jacob; Hannah submissively seeks help from God. After receiving a son, Rachel asks for another; Before she even had a son, In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the LORD, weeping bitterly. And she made a vow, saying, “LORD Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the LORD for all the days of his life…” 1 Samuel 1:10-11
Rachel demanded children, and she died in childbirth of her second; Hannah asked the LORD for one child, then she had four more.
Maybe you’re waiting on the LORD for something today: for a job, or a wife, or a husband, or a child. Maybe you’ve been looking to your husband, or wife, or boss, or mother, or father, or teacher to fulfill that need. If that’s your situation then recognize that the LORD is where your answer lies. One of the greatest statements that John the Baptist ever made was, “I am not the Christ.” (John 1:20) John the Baptist is not the Christ. Neither was Jacob. Neither was the king of Israel for Namaan. Neither is your husband, or wife, or boss, or whoever. Focus on Him and the things you know He has for you to do. Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD. (Psalm 27:14) The time of fruit bearing will come. For if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. (Romans 8:25)
Put your hope in Him.
Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.
1 When Rachel saw that she was not bearing Jacob any children, she became jealous of her sister. So she said to Jacob, “Give me children, or I’ll die!”
2 Jacob became angry with her and said, “Am I in the place of God, who has kept you from having children?”
3 Then she said, “Here is Bilhah, my servant. Sleep with her so that she can bear children for me and I too can build a family through her.”
4 So she gave him her servant Bilhah as a wife. Jacob slept with her, 5 and she became pregnant and bore him a son.6 Then Rachel said, “God has vindicated me; he has listened to my plea and given me a son.” Because of this she named him Dan.
7 Rachel’s servant Bilhah conceived again and bore Jacob a second son. 8 Then Rachel said, “I have had a great struggle with my sister, and I have won.” So she named him Naphtali.
9 When Leah saw that she had stopped having children, she took her servant Zilpah and gave her to Jacob as a wife.10 Leah’s servant Zilpah bore Jacob a son. 11 Then Leah said, “What good fortune!” So she named him Gad.
12 Leah’s servant Zilpah bore Jacob a second son. 13 Then Leah said, “How happy I am! The women will call me happy.” So she named him Asher.
14 During wheat harvest, Reuben went out into the fields and found some mandrake plants, which he brought to his mother Leah. Rachel said to Leah, “Please give me some of your son’s mandrakes.”
15 But she said to her, “Wasn’t it enough that you took away my husband? Will you take my son’s mandrakes too?”
“Very well,” Rachel said, “he can sleep with you tonight in return for your son’s mandrakes.”
16 So when Jacob came in from the fields that evening, Leah went out to meet him. “You must sleep with me,” she said. “I have hired you with my son’s mandrakes.” So he slept with her that night.
17 God listened to Leah, and she became pregnant and bore Jacob a fifth son. 18 Then Leah said, “God has rewarded me for giving my servant to my husband.” So she named him Issachar.
19 Leah conceived again and bore Jacob a sixth son. 20 Then Leah said, “God has presented me with a precious gift. This time my husband will treat me with honor, because I have borne him six sons.” So she named him Zebulun.
21 Some time later she gave birth to a daughter and named her Dinah.
22 Then God remembered Rachel; he listened to her and enabled her to conceive. 23 She became pregnant and gave birth to a son and said, “God has taken away my disgrace.” 24 She named him Joseph, and said, “May the LORD add to me another son.”