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Wednesday in the Word

Second Baptist Church

April 27, 2016

Genesis 30:1:21

  1. Verse 1. Rachel lets Jacob have it with both guns loaded! She is conveying her feminine emotions. She expresses to Jacob, “l have to have children. That's where my identity comes from. I'm hurting right now.” Naturally, this is hyperbole for extreme grief (see 25:32; 27:46). Although loved by her husband, Rachel does not consider her life worth living without children (cf. 1 Sam 1:7-12). Rachel's response is natural, but God calls for our response to be supernatural. Instead of rejoicing with those who rejoice (Rom 12:15), Rachel became jealous of God's favor upon her older sister. This destroyed her from the inside out. Rachel's response was wrong; it immediately put Jacob on the defensive. Most men don’t respond well to a strong-willed woman. It can turn the best of men passive.

  2. Verse 2. The word “anger” (anaph) literally means “to breathe hard, be enraged, flare the nostrils.” In Hebrew the phrase reads, “and the anger of Jacob was hot.” He is steamed! Notice that Jacob responds with a correct theological truth, acknowledging that he is not God, and hence cannot control Rachel’s womb (cf. 2 Kgs 5:7). In his hot reply, Jacob seems to be implying, “It's not my fault you have no children. Don't go after me; go after God. I have kids everywhere.” Obviously, this is not the way that a husband should respond to his wife. At this moment in our story, Rachel didn't need a lecture on theology or gynecology. She needed the gentle and loving understanding of her husband and the encouragement that only his love could provide. Jacob should have followed the example of his father, Isaac, when Rebekah had been barren. He prayed for his wife and God blessed her with children (25:21). No such prayers are mentioned here. instead, Jacob, in turn, became angry with Rachel.

  3. Verses 3-4. After reflecting on Jacob's words, apparently Rachel realized that he was right, so she said to him: ‘“Here is my maid Bilhah, go in to her that she may bear on my knees, that through her I too may have children.’ So she gave him her maid Bilhah as a wife, and Jacob went in to her.” You may be saying to yourself, “Déja vu.” In 16:1-4, when Sarah couldn't get pregnant, she told Abraham to sleep with Hagar. Rachel is following the example of Sarah. Ancient documents reveal that when a woman could not provide her husband with a child, she could give her female slave as a wife and claim the child of this union as her own. So this was culturally acceptable and completely legal. However, just because something is culturally and legally acceptable doesn't make it right for the believer. Jacob should have been an example of faith and godliness to Rachel. He should have immediately rejected her suggestion and turned to the Lord in prayer. Instead, with little or no protest, he passively agreed to Rachel's plan.

  4. Verses 5-8. Rachel falsely assumes that God is pleased with her schemes by attributing Dan's birth to God. Rachel's maid Bilhah conceived again and bore Jacob a second son. So Rachel said, ‘“With mighty wrestlings I have wrestled with my sister, and I have indeed prevailed.’ And she named him Naphtali” [“mighty wrestlings”]. Rachel adopts both of Bilhah's sons as if they are her own. Yet, God still hasn’t given Rachel a son of her own. God doesn't reward jealous spirits. Rachel has only added to the conflict. With Bilhah's second child, Rachel's true heart is revealed in her response. In 30:8, Rachel says, “With mighty wrestlings I have wrestled with my sister, and I have indeed prevailed.” Can't you just hear the anger? Can't you just feel the venom between these two women? Rachel says, “Look, I haven’t had children of my own but due to Bilhah I now have two children.” This is a classic example of “the end justifying the means.” Sometimes when we sin and things work out, we justify it.

  5. Verses 9-13. Oh boy, here comes more drama. Now this is where the war of the womb intensifies. Since Rachel now has two surrogate children, Leah gets back into the jealousy game. Up until now, Leah has produced her own children. But now that she is no longer conceiving, she resorts to the same tactics as Rachel. Her motto is, “Anything you can do, I can do better.” In 30:9-13, Moses writes, “When Leah saw that she had stopped bearing, she took her maid Zilpah and gave her to Jacob as a wife. Leah's maid Zilpah bore Jacob a son. Then Leah said, ‘How fortunate!’ So she named him Gad. [Gad means “fortune.” This is like naming your kid “Vegas, Reno, or Lotto.”] Leah's maid Zilpah bore Jacob a second son. Then Leah said, ‘Happy am I! For women will call me happy.’ “So she named him Asher.” Asher means "happy." Leah had temporarily turned Jacob's attention away from her sister and this made her happy. However, Leah seems to have lost her focus. She is now intent on her own happiness and what other women think and say. Obviously, this is not what God would have us to seek. Rather, He wants us to seek the approval of God not men.

  6. Verses 14-16. Little Reuben comes upon some mandrakes. What are mandrakes, you ask? They are a plant that bears bluish flowers in winter and yellowish, plum-size fruit in summer. In ancient times, mandrakes were famed for arousing sexual desire (cf. Song of Sol 7:13) and for helping barren women conceive. The Hebrew word for mandrakes is almost identical to the word for “love,” so many ancients called them “love apples.” As we'll see, both sisters had their reasons for wanting these plants. Our story continues in 30:15: “Then Rachel said to Leah, ‘Please give me some of your son’s mandrakes.’ But she said to her, ‘Is it a small matter for you to take my husband? And would you take my son's mandrakes also?” So Rachel said, “Therefore he may lie with you tonight in return for your son’s mandrakes.” Rachel commands Leah to give her some of the mandrakes. Well, Leah's not about to help Rachel, so she refuses her demand. Next, Leah levels a charge of husband stealing against Rachel. Now, this is beginning to sound like one of those afternoon soap operas, isn’t it? Rachel, the favored wife, makes all of the bedtime appointments for Jacob, so she schedules Leah, in exchange for the mandrakes. In 30:16, we see what happens: “When Jacob came in from the field in the evening, then Leah went out to meet him [this is an eager woman] and said, ‘You must come in to me, for I have surely hired you with my son's mandrakes.’ So he lay with her that night.” Most men don’t require a wife to say, “You have to sleep with me.” Most men are all too happy to oblige. However, Jacob has no passion for Leah. Another point also seems to be clear: Jacob lacks spiritual leadership. He is addressed once by Rachel (“Give me children”) and once by Leah (“I have surely hired you”). Both statements reveal his passivity. Moses is revealing a home without a spiritual leader.

  7. Verses 17-21. Moses writes, “God gave heed to Leah, and she conceived and bore Jacob a fifth son. Then Leah said, ‘God has given me my wages because I gave my maid to my husband.’ So she named him Issachar [“wages” or “reward”].” Leah conceived again and bore a sixth son to Jacob. “Then Leah said, ‘God has endowed me with a good gift; now my husband will dwell with me, because I have borne him six sons.’ So she named him Zebulun. Afterward she bore a daughter and named her Dinah” [This is going to be one spoiled little girl. Dinah's name means “justice.” Can you imagine how shocking all of this must have been for Rachel? Rachel, who has the mandrakes, remains barren for three more years; Leah, who doesn't have the mandrakes, has three more kids. She has a total of seven children. This is more than all the other three women in this story. However, she never received what she desired most-Jacob’s love. How sad! Leah spent all of these years trying to win her husband’s approval, but it never happened. She spent the rest of her life in a loveless marriage, even though she had born half of the sons who would be the fathers of half the tribes of Israel. It appears, in this brief account, that both sisters were initially caught up in the mandrake factor and were not seeking the Lord for their children, or anything else. That sounds a lot like us. Why is it that we are willing to trust in everything but the Lord? We'll spend hours on the phone with friends, but we won't spend five minutes on our knees before God.

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