Genesis 29:31-30:24 ~ 20080309 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~

We are looking at Jacob the patriarch. This is the Jacob that God refers to when he says 'I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob'

Psalms 146:5 Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God,

And we have been finding out that Jacob was no moral pillar – no shining example of faith and righteousness. He's really not someone we'd want our kids looking up to. He was a smooth man – he ripped off his own twin brother, and then he ripped of his own blind dad. If he showed up at church, we'd have to warn you to keep a close eye on your wallets and purses. He's got a criminal record and he's on the run for his life because his brother's out to kill him. If you see a really angry hairy guy with a bow and arrow – get out of his way – it's Esau and he's looking for Jacob. Jacob is no prize model of Christian virtue – but God has made amazing unconditional promises to Jacob to bless him and work in him and through him. And last week we saw lesson #1 in God's school of transformation – where Jacob the deceiver met his match and was deceived by his uncle Laban into marrying the ugly older sister of the woman he loved. Today, we get lesson #2 in God's school of character development.

29:30 So Jacob went in to Rachel also, and he loved Rachel more than Leah, and served Laban for another seven years. 31 When the LORD saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren.

Jacob was wronged. He was tricked. He was deceived into marrying a woman that he didn't love. And he was conned out of another 7 years of hard labor because he didn't read the small print on the contract. And apparently Leah went along with her father's deception. Maybe she was realizing that she was getting old and her chances of getting a husband were quickly disappearing. Maybe she thought this was her only chance - if she went to bed with Jacob, she would win his affection. She desperately wanted to be loved and cared for – obviously she didn't get the kind of love and affection that a girl should from her father – he was willing to use her to play a joke on Jacob, and to trade her for some manual labor. Jacob had every reason to be bitter. He was angry and he let Leah know how he felt about her. It is interesting that Jacob was not the favorite son of his father, and now Leah is not his favorite wife, but God is blessing her. Jacob may have had every reason to hate Leah, but God was aware and God came to her defense. God opened her womb, but Rachel was barren.

32 And Leah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Reuben, for she said, “Because the LORD has looked upon my affliction; for now my husband will love me.” 33 She conceived again and bore a son, and said, “Because the LORD has heard that I am hated, he has given me this son also.” And she called his name Simeon. 34 Again she conceived and bore a son, and said, “Now this time my husband will be attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.” Therefore his name was called Levi. 35 And she conceived again and bore a son, and said, “This time I will praise the LORD.” Therefore she called his name Judah. Then she ceased bearing.

Leah bears four boys in rapid succession. Although Jacob hated her, he was obviously still fulfilling his obligation to her as husband. Leah names her firstborn 'Reuben' which was a common name that meant 'see, a son', but she gives it significance by the similarity in sound to 'seen my misery' and 'my husband will love me'. She recognizes that God is aware of her situation and God cares about her. She acknowledges that this child is a gift from the Lord, but she wrongly thinks that bearing Jacob's firstborn child will win the affection of her husband. This story is amazingly contemporary. This woman wanted more than anything else to be loved. She was willing to trick this guy into becoming her husband. She thought if she slept with him, she would win his affection. She thought having a baby with him would bring them closer together. She was wrong. Her second son she named 'Simeon' which sounds like 'heard' and 'hated'. The Lord has heard that I am hated, so he has given me another son. Her third son was named Levi, which sounds like the Hebrew word 'attached'. She thought that now with three sons, Jacob would surely become attached to her. God has blessed her with children, but this has not changed the heart of her husband toward her. Leah must learn to find her emotional fulfillment in the Lord alone. Her fourth son she names 'Judah' which means 'I will praise the Lord'. For a moment, Leah turns her thoughts away from her unloving husband, and toward her Lord, and she expresses praise.

30:1 When Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, she envied her sister. She said to Jacob, “Give me children, or I shall die!” 2 Jacob’s anger was kindled against Rachel, and he said, “Am I in the place of God, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?” 3 Then she said, “Here is my servant Bilhah; go in to her, so that she may give birth on my behalf, that even I may have children through her.” 4 So she gave him her servant Bilhah as a wife, and Jacob went in to her. 5 And Bilhah conceived and bore Jacob a son. 6 Then Rachel said, “God has judged me, and has also heard my voice and given me a son.” Therefore she called his name Dan. 7 Rachel’s servant Bilhah conceived again and bore Jacob a second son. 8 Then Rachel said, “With mighty wrestlings I have wrestled with my sister and have prevailed.” So she called his name Naphtali.

Amazingly, Rachel, the younger attractive loved wife of Jacob is jealous of her sister. We always want what somebody else has. Leah has children, but she wants her husbands affection. Rachel has her husband's affection, but all she wants is children. So in her frustration she yells at Jacob. The problem evidently wasn't in Jacob – he has fathered four sons. And yet Rachel demands that Jacob give her children. Jacob's answer is theologically correct, but demonstrates that he has disengaged from his spiritual responsibility as head of the home. Rachel yells at him, so he yells back. It's not my fault. If you want to point the finger at someone, blame God – he's the one that is not allowing you to get pregnant! This, by the way, is the only place in the whole chapter that Jacob speaks. Jacob has been robbed of his humanity and reduced to breeding stock. It's interesting to contrast Jacob's response to his barren wife with the response of his father to his barren wife Rebekah:

Genesis 25:21 And Isaac prayed to the LORD for his wife, because she was barren. And the LORD granted his prayer, and Rebekah his wife conceived.

Jacob had his theology right- or at least half right. He recognized that it was God who opens and closes the womb. He acknowledged that God is sovereign over everything that happens. What he failed to understand is that God is also good and merciful and loving and loves to give good gifts to his children in response to their prayers. Jacob was prayerless when he met Rebekah, and now years into their relationship, he remains prayerless. Jacob's dad had seen that his wife was barren and he knew the one in control of the womb was ultimately God, so he went to God for help, and God heard and God answered and Jacob and Esau were conceived. Now Jacob is in a similar situation with his wife Rachel, and he knows whose in control and he tells his wife that, but he doesn't go to God in prayer. Jacob could have learned from his parents example. He also should have learned from the mistakes of his grandparents. Rachel decides that rather than let her ugly sister get the upper hand, she would give her servant girl to her husband to get children that way. Jacob should have heard the stories from grandma Sarah about Hagar and uncle Ishmael and how that whole plan really made a mess of things. But rather than learning from history, he blindly repeats it. Rachel names the first child of her servant 'Dan' which means 'God has vindicated me'. Rachel says 'God has heard my voice' which implies that although her husband did not intercede for her, she prayed on her own behalf. It is interesting that three of the first four children that Leah bore, she names in reference to God's covenant name YHWH. When Rebekah names the children that Bilhah bore to her, she uses the generic name for God 'Elohim'.

She names the next son 'Napthali' and she says 'in my struggling with God I have struggled with my sister and have overcome'.

9 When Leah saw that she had ceased bearing children, she took her servant Zilpah and gave her to Jacob as a wife. 10 Then Leah’s servant Zilpah bore Jacob a son. 11 And Leah said, “Good fortune has come!” so she called his name Gad. 12 Leah’s servant Zilpah bore Jacob a second son. 13 And Leah said, “Happy am I! For women have called me happy.” So she called his name Asher.

Apparently there was a brief break in the action for Leah, so she followed her sister's example and gave her maidservant Zilpah to Jacob as a wife to raise up children for her. The first child, she names 'Gad' – good luck or good fortune! The second she names 'Asher' which sounds like 'women will call me happy' or 'women will envy me'.

14 In the days of wheat harvest Reuben went and found mandrakes in the field and brought them to his mother Leah. Then Rachel said to Leah, “Please give me some of your son’s mandrakes.” 15 But she said to her, “Is it a small matter that you have taken away my husband? Would you take away my son’s mandrakes also?” Rachel said, “Then he may lie with you tonight in exchange for your son’s mandrakes.” 16 When Jacob came from the field in the evening, Leah went out to meet him and said, “You must come in to me, for I have hired you with my son’s mandrakes.” So he lay with her that night. 17 And God listened to Leah, and she conceived and bore Jacob a fifth son. 18 Leah said, “God has given me my wages because I gave my servant to my husband.” So she called his name Issachar. 19 And Leah conceived again, and she bore Jacob a sixth son. 20 Then Leah said, “God has endowed me with a good endowment; now my husband will honor me, because I have borne him six sons.” So she called his name Zebulun. 21 Afterward she bore a daughter and called her name Dinah.

This is a most disturbing passage. Mandrakes are a plant that is entirely poisonous. The plant has some medicinal value as an anesthetic, but the mandrake is wrapped up in superstition and magic. It was thought that the mandrake was an aphrodisiac that brought fertility. The Hebrew word could literally be translated 'love fruits'. So Reuben is around 4 ½ or 5 years old and he wanders in from the fields with this poisonous plant. Rachel sees what it is and wants to put it under her pillow so she can get pregnant. Leah is obviously on edge a bit – she explodes at the suggestion: 'You stole my husband – now you want to steal my son's mandrakes!!' But Rachel is willing to broker a deal: sex with the husband in exchange for the fertility drug. Apparently Jacob has ceased to fulfill his marital responsibilities to his hated wife, and that may be part of why she has stopped having kids. So she is willing to buy his services in exchange for the plant. Jacob had taken advantage of his twin brother's hunger and sold him a bowl of soup for the birthright; Jacob has been reduced to a hired hand on uncle Laban's ranch; now Jacob is given out for hire in the bedroom by his own favorite wife! Rachel's deal backfires on her – the mandrakes do her no good, but Leah gets pregnant – and she names the boy 'Issachar' -God has given me my wages. I imagine these names stung Jacob each time he had to call his kids – Issachar – wages – that's the time my wives bartered for bedroom rights. Reuben – the Lord has seen my misery; Simeon – the Lord has heard that I am hated; Napthali – with great struggling I have struggled. Painful memories of these painful seven years of hard labor under Laban who deceived him like he had deceived his father and brother. And eleven kids from four different women within seven years had to be a painful experience – I wonder how many were in diapers at the same time...

Leah conceived her sixth and last son Zebulun which sounds like 'God has presented me' or 'my husband will acknowledge me as a lawful wife'. Leah the unloved wife is still longing for the acknowledgment and affection of her husband. Later she has a daughter Dinah, and she will show up again in chapter 34.

22 Then God remembered Rachel, and God listened to her and opened her womb. 23 She conceived and bore a son and said, “God has taken away my reproach.” 24 And she called his name Joseph, saying, “May the LORD add to me another son!”

Six years of marriage and still childless, during which time her sister has had six boys. The chapter begins by God opening Leah's womb because she was hated by her husband. The chapter closes with God remembering Rachel, God listening to Rachel, and God opening her womb. It is clear the mandrakes had nothing to do with it – it was all God. And so Rachel names her first son Joseph 'God has taken away my disgrace' and 'may the Lord add to me another son'. Rachel here finally addresses God by his covenant name YHWH.

Why? Why is this story in the bible? First let me be very clear – it is not here so we say 'well, Jacob was a patriarch and he had four wives so I guess that means it's ok to have multiple sexual partners.' Let me give you a basic principle of interpretation: narrative is not normative. Just because something happened in the bible doesn't mean it has God's stamp of approval and we should imitate the behavior. I think this story makes that painfully clear – Jacob's life as portrayed in this chapter is not every man's dream – more like any man's nightmare. When we're looking for guidance for our lives, we shouldn't go to narrative passages like:

1 Kings 11:3 [Solomon] had 700 wives, princesses, and 300 concubines. ...

Instead we go to passages where God gives us his instruction, like:

Deuteronomy 17:17 And he shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away,

Mark 10:6-9 But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

Narrative is not always normative. Precept takes precedence over practice – just because someone in the bible did something doesn't mean it's a good idea – it might be there to warn us not to make the same mistakes they made.

But why do we have to shine a flashlight into the private life of Jacob and see all his faults and failures? Wouldn't we be better off not knowing all these sordid details? Can't we just pretend Jacob was a great guy and we should try to be like him? Let me tell you why I think a passage like this is in the bible; better yet, let me read to you what God says about why things like this are recorded:

Romans 15:4 For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

When we hear God say 'I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob',

Exodus 3:15 God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.

we should remember their stories and take hope. God chose an idol worshiping guy from Ur of the Chaldees and called him to leave everything and follow him. His wife was barren, so God changed his name from 'exalted father' to 'father of a multitude'. When his barren wife was 99, well after she had passed out of her childbearing years and it would be doubly impossible for her to have children, she became pregnant and had a son whom God named Isaac – laughter. All God had asked was that they believe him – trust him. God had supernaturally brought a son and with him brought blessing, joy and laughter into their lives. This son 'Laughter' also takes a barren wife, and God gives him twins through her. But he wants to go against God's word and pass on the blessing to his favorite son, the older, the hunter. Instead, he is deceived by his wife and his younger son Jacob – the deceiver. So the deceiver has to be sent away to save his own life. Jacob proves over and over again that he is not worthy of the blessings that God has promised him, but God doesn't go back on his word. God has determined to work with this self-willed deceiver and break him and change him and shape him into a man who surrenders to God and trusts him.

Genesis 28:15 ...I am with you and will keep you wherever you go... I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.

When I hear that our God is the God of Jacob, I get excited! If God can be the God of a crook like Jacob and make him useful for his purposes, then there's hope for me! God is not looking for really great raw materials to work with; in fact he delights to take sinners – messed up sinners like Jacob; messed up sinners like us – and transform us and use us to bring him glory.

1 Corinthians 1:27-29 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.

2 Corinthians 4:6-7 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.