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O great God, help us now to hear Your Word. We are hard of hearing. We are slow to understand. We struggle to pay attention. We struggle even more to repent and believe. We ask, therefore, that You would give us ears to hear Your voice as You speak to us through Your holy, inspired, and inerrant Scriptures. In Jesus we pray. Amen.
Our text this morning comes from Genesis, the first book in the Bible. Genesis chapter 29, beginning at verse 31. Genesis tracks through the travails and the blessings of the chosen family, from Abraham to Isaac, and then for really the second half of the book, Jacob and his sons. Where we left off, Jacob has wed two wives, not God’s plan for humanity but allowed for a time even though it was against God’s moral law, two wives. Now we are going to hear of the rivalry between these two wives. Every time you have polygamy in the Bible, you have some sort of sin, some sort of rivalry. You never see it going well, and here we see it certainly not going well as children are born back and forth to Jacob through these wives and their maidservants.
Follow along, then, as I read Genesis 29, beginning at verse 31. What may seem like a strange passage, just a list of children being born, and yet you’re going to find how relevant all of God’s Word is to us.
” When the Lord saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren. 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.” 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. 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. 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.”
“When Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, she envied her sister. She said to Jacob, “Give me children, or I shall die!” 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?” 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.” So she gave him her servant Bilhah as a wife, and Jacob went in to her. And Bilhah conceived and bore Jacob a son. 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. Then Rachel said, “With mighty wrestlings I have wrestled with my sister and have prevailed.” So she called his name Naphtali.”
“When Leah saw that she had ceased bearing children, she took her servant Zilpah and gave her to Jacob as a wife. Then Leah’s servant Zilpah bore Jacob a son. And Leah said, “Good fortune has come!” so she called his name Gad. Leah’s servant Zilpah bore Jacob a second son. And Leah said, “Happy am I! For women have called me happy.” So she called his name Asher.”
“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.” 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.” 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. And God listened to Leah, and she conceived and bore Jacob a fifth son. Leah said, “God has given me my wages because I gave my servant to my husband.” So she called his name Issachar.”
“And Leah conceived again, and she bore Jacob a sixth son. 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. Afterward she bore a daughter and called her name Dinah.”
“Then God remembered Rachel, and God listened to her and opened her womb. She conceived and bore a son and said, “God has taken away my reproach.” And she called his name Joseph, saying, “May the Lord add to me another son!””
What do you do when the one thing you want more than anything in the world seems to be the one thing you can’t have? What do you do when the one thing you want more than anything in the world seems to be the one thing that you just can’t have? That one thing can be very big or it can seem small.
At many times over the years my kids have insisted that I get them a dog. I remain steadfastly opposed to getting a dog. I’m not opposed to dogs and you dog owners and dog lovers, there’s allergies, there’s other reasons, there’s nine children, I don’t need another child called a dog. But this has not stopped my kids from asking for a dog, over and over. One of my children told me a couple years ago, “Dad, every day in my prayers I ask God for a dog.” A profound lesson in unanswered prayer.
Sometimes the thing you want is just out of reach.
Some of you would have seen years ago the 1984 movie Amadeus. Salieri is the accomplished court musician who seethes with jealousy over Mozart, who constantly humiliates him and one ups him. Salieri is an accomplished musician in his own right but he simply does not have the once in a generation talent and gifts that Mozart has. In one famous scene, you can watch it later on YouTube, it’s a scene that didn’t take place in history but it makes for a very good scene in the movie, Salieri composes a march for Mozart’s arrival, and they’re there with all these illustrious musicians and the emperor of Austria, and he plays this little march, this little ditty. Mozart comes in and the emperor of Austria hands the sheet music that Salieri has composed in his honor and the emperor says to Mozart, “Here you go, here’s the march for you as a gift, and now you have the sheet music and you can play it,” and Mozart says, “I don’t need it.” He says, “You don’t need it?” He says, “No, I have it up here.” He says, “You only just heard it one time, for the first time.” He says, “No, I already have it memorized.”
Mozart did have that kind of talent. So he sits down at the piano, or harpsichord, and he plunks out the melody that he just heard and at first Salieri is sort of gratified that Mozart is playing his melody, and then Mozart stops and he says, “It doesn’t quite work, does it?” The on the spot he improvises and he adds more depth and character and resonance to the piece until it sounds like something that went from a child to an adult, and Saliere is absolutely humiliated.
The movie is about Saliere’s increasing jealousy, that for whatever hard work he has, he will never have the musical genius that this childish man Mozart has been given, and Saliere knows it and it eats him up. The one thing he wanted was the one thing he would never get.
This passage in Genesis is about a lot of things. It’s about the literal birth of a nation. It’s about family conflict. It’s about God keeping His promises to His chosen people. And it’s about two women, two sisters, two rivals, each possessing what the other woman wants and each lacking what the other woman has.
It’s about wanting one thing in life more than anything in the world, and that one thing seeming to be just out of reach.
Here’s the outline, and it’s just going to follow the text. We’re going to bounce back and forth between Leah and the kids that come from her and her maidservant, and then to Rachel and the kids that come from her and her maidservant, and back and forth between the two, and we’ll finish by focusing on God and what He is doing in this passage.
So look back at chapter 29, that first paragraph, verses 31 through the end of the chapter. You read this sobering verse, “The Lord saw that Leah was hated.” Some translations say “unloved,” but the word is “hated.” It may not mean a visceral loathing, but it means more than a passive indifference. It’s not simply that Leah was lesser loved, and that Jacob thought Rachel hung the moon and, you know, second place but still a dear lady was Leah. It seemed, no, Jacob disliked Leah. This was the wife he thought he was getting. Remember? He thought he had worked for Rachel, then Laban tricked him and he had Leah and he had to work again so he could have Rachel, and we see that Jacob did not treat her well.
There’s a later law in the Mosaic record, it comes from Deuteronomy, which no doubt has the story of Leah and Rachel in mind. Deuteronomy 21: “If a man has two wives, the one loved and the other unloved,” or the one loved and the other hated, you could translate it, “and both the loved and the unloved have borne him children, and if the firstborn son belongs to the unloved, then on the day when he assigns his possessions as an inheritance to his sons, he may not treat the son of the loved as the firstborn in preference of the son of the unloved, who is the firstborn.” No doubt that has in mind the very situation with Leah and Rachel. If you had two wives and you loved one and you don’t love the other, still the first son to be born, whether it’s the wife you love or not, is to be the firstborn and he is to receive the possessions.
The Lord looks upon Leah with compassion, and it seems that both Leah and Rachel would not have had children except the Lord looked down upon Leah, and though Rachel was barren and will be until the very end of this section, He has grace and mercy upon Leah and opens her womb. She has in this first round four kids. What happens with each recounting of the children, you can look, and we won’t go back down to see the squint print, but if you’re reading from the ESV, you see these names all have footnotes and you can read because each of these sons are named for a Hebrew word that sounds like something else that commemorates what’s going on in the life of the family.
So Reuben, the firstborn, sounds like Hebrew for “He has seen my misery,” or “He has seen my affliction.” Leah hopes that her husband would now love her. She says that in verse 32, “Because the Lord has looked upon my affliction, now my husband will love me.”
Well, she has a second son, Simeon. Sounds like the Hebrew word for “hear.” Think of the Shema, “Hear, O Israel.” You can see that word there in “Simeon.” Leah again says, “The Lord has heard that I am not loved.”
A third son, Levi, sounds like Hebrew for “attached” and she holds out hope with a third son, “Now my husband will be attached to me.”
Then a fourth son, Judah. This sounds like the Hebrew word for “praise.” This time she praises the Lord.
Now Leah, as we’ll see, all of the family, they have a lot of room to grow, but there’s something of a progression in Leah and these four children. Remember, they come to us in just one paragraph, but this takes years to have a child and be pregnant, and even if you have a wet nurse so you get pregnant more quickly, still this is happening over several years and it seems that by the fourth child Leah has learned something.
The first three are all named for her desire that now her husband would finally love her. She comes to the fourth, she’s learned something of what she can and cannot control, at least at this point, so she calls the fourth Judah, “I can’t control what my husband’s doing, but I can praise the Lord because He has given me this son.”
If you know something of the Old Testament history, you know that it’s actually the fourth son here, not the first son, who will be the one who will receive the greatest of the promised blessings because it’s from Judah that the line of David will come and from the line of David that the promised Messiah would come, a lion of the tribe of Judah.
The Bible is so relatable. Even in a passage like this. Here you have a woman, sadly not for the last time, a woman who discovers that her pregnancy is not a guarantee that her husband will love her as he ought. With each child there’s a new flicker of hope, “I’ve given him a son,” and in that context especially a son was so valuable, to work and to receive the possessions and to inherit the land, “I’ve given him a son, not just one, two, three, now four sons.”
Some of you know the pain of desperately wanting someone in your life to love you. You may realize it or not. It may be like Leah, and it’s a husband, but it could be somebody else. It could be your wife, you’re saying, “Hey, this is about me and my wife.” It could be your mother or father. How many children end up living out their days always grasping for what they never seemed to get from a father or a mother, just a hug, an embrace, an “I love you, I’ll always love you.”
Or it works the other way, doesn’t it? That sometimes parents live their whole lives just desperate that their children will love them. Or it could be a sibling. Or it could be somebody in your life that you look up to, or you once revered and respected. Sometimes it even happens, doesn’t it? That it’s someone, you can’t even explain it. You don’t even like them anymore but there’s something deep inside you that is desperate for them to affirm you, to love you, and you’re living your life like Leah was, for someone else to give you the love that you think you are lacking.
Now we’re going to get to Jacob, not letting Jacob off the hook for not loving Leah. Even though he was tricked, it was his wife, he should have loved her.
But here at least initially is one of the lessons we all need to hear: An inordinate desire for affection and approval leads you down a dangerous path.
Now it’s true, if none of us cared what other people think, it sounds nice, “I don’t care what anybody thinks,” well, you might be a sociopath then. I mean, you might be a psychopath. You don’t care? No, there’s something in us as social image-bearers, we do care what people think. So it’s not the completely obliterate it. That’s why I said an inordinate desire, beyond what is normal, to the level of idolatry.
Do not make your life about getting someone else to love you.
The irony is, what happens is often the people that are most desperate and needy for someone to simply love them are the ones that then become hard to love, because there’s a sense of that neediness and that emptiness and desperateness which pushes people away, even though you want more than anything in the world to draw them in, because you’re looking for them to fill up what only God can give you, that sense that you matter, that you’re loved, that you’re justified, that you’re accepted before Him. You must believe however much you want the love of that person in your life, and even if they ought to give it to you, you have to believe that God can love you better.
Leah is desperate, and we’ll come to it again at the end, desperate, “Won’t my husband love me?”
Then we have Rachel. Next paragraph, chapter 30, beginning at verse 1: “When Rachel saw that she,” meaning Leah, “bore Jacob,” her sister, “bore Jacob,” or that she, rather herself, “bore no children, and her sister did, she envied her sister and she said to Jacob…”
I mean, isn’t this just an absolute plaintive cry, “Give me children or I’d die.” It’s not a joke. And this is a hard sermon for some of you. Some of you have prayed that prayer. Some of you are praying that prayer, “God, I don’t want to be rich. I don’t want a mansion. I’m not asking for power and wealth. I don’t want revenge. I just want a child.” Can understand all too well Rachel’s plea.
She comes, however, in desperation, in frustration and anger, to her husband: “You give me a child or I’m dead.” Jacob won’t have it. He should have been tender with her. He’s angry. He is right on the theological point, he’s not in the place of God. God has to open the womb.
It’s ironic, isn’t it? We read last week, “Leah’s eyes were weak,” meaning they were soft. It may be a negative statement or it may mean that they were tender and gentle, but just didn’t have the comparable beauty of Rachel. Whatever it is, it’s a comparison unfavorable towards her younger sister. Leah’s eyes were soft, but we read last week Rachel was beautiful in form and appearance.
We never read that Leah, however, was jealous of Rachel’s face. We don’t read that Leah was jealous of Rachel’s physique. Leah, we have no record that Leah wanted Rachel’s body. But we do see here how desperately Rachel wanted Leah’s womb. She likely would have traded all of the beauty, all of the comeliness of face, all of the appearance of form, that she could have the children that her sister seemed to be having so easily.
It only increased the sense of rivalry. She couldn’t have told herself, “Well, it’s Jacob.” You know, Jacob just had four children with Leah. It only adds to Rachel’s sense of shame and desperation, and when you feel ashamed and when you feel desperate, you do things that are not of the Lord.
So she thinks, “Ah, we’ve seen this in our family before. When you can’t get the child you want, you get the maidservant. You’ll be a surrogate.” So she gives to him Bilhah as a wife.
Now at this time in the patriarchal period, the word for “wife” and “concubine” overlaps. Later there will be more of a distinction, you have a wife, you have a concubine, but here there’s sort of a tiered system that you have the favored wife, Rachel. You have also the next wife, Leah, and then you have their two servants that are under the control of their mistresses.
So she gives her servant Bilhah. Jacob and Bilhah have two children. Dan, Rachel so names because she says “God has judged,” meaning “God has vindicated me.” Rachel feels God has finally listened to me and I have a child. It’s not from my own womb, but I have a child from my maidservant. That’s something.
There’s a second child, Naphtali, meaning “struggle, wrestlings,” because she’s had great wrestlings with her sister and she’s won.
Now I don’t mean this to be humorous. If it weren’t so sad and tragic, it would be funny, but it is sad and tragic. I mean, think about how bad your relationship with your sister has to be, you name your kids just to spite her. “Here’s my child.” “Oh, congrats. What’d you name her?” “Told you so.” “Oh.” “Here’s my second.” “What’d you name this son?” “Take that.” “Oh.” Just back and forth.
That’s what they’re naming their children. “Vindicated, Dan. Ha. God heard my prayers.” “Naphtali, my struggle. I beat you.”
It must have been, even though Rachel so names these children and tells herself, “Yes, I finally have two kids, through my maidservant,” it must have been yet another blow. “Everyone seems to get pregnant, except for me,” Rachel must have thought.
I know from 20 years of ministry what a pain that is for women in the life of the church. How many kids do we have coming and on the way here, somebody said 15, 16,17. What a blessing. Except it’s very hard if you’re not among that number and you desperately wish you were. Even when it’s the best of circumstances, and it’s not anyone’s fault, it still means that we must as a body give ourselves holy to Paul’s injunction to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice: “I’m so pleased for you and the good news that you’re having a child, and I weep with you as you continue to pray and plead with the Lord that you might have a child as well.”
That’s live in the body of Christ. It’s the easiest thing in the world for that to turn into rivalry and suspicion and judgment when God wants us to celebrate with everything worth celebrating and weep with everything worth weeping.
Bilhah has children, Rachel still has none.
Then we come to Leah again. We read in the end of chapter 29 Leah ceased bearing. We don’t know if that means that the Lord had shut her womb, or many commentators think that Rachel as the loved wife had something of authority over her sister Leah, and that Leah could not come and lay with the husband Jacob except by Rachel’s permission, and that certainly seems to be the situations that we’ll come to in verse 14.
So “Leah ceased bearing” may mean she just couldn’t have kids, or very likely it meant Rachel said, “No, no. You don’t get any privileges with Jacob anymore.”
So Leah now, even though she’s had four children by Jacob, verse 9, when she saw she had ceased bearing, she says, “Okay, two can play at this game. You just got two kids through your maidservant. I’m going to give my maidservant to Jacob.” Leah refuses to be out done and so she gives Zilpah, her maidservant, and Zilpah has two sons: Gad, means good fortune, Asher means happy.
Again, you see the rivalry. You don’t know to laugh or to cry. Rachel has these children through her maidservant and says, “Ah, vindicated. Take that. I won.” You can just sense Leah twisting the knife with these next kids through her maidservant: “What shall I call them? Happy. Glad. Favored. Fortune. My life is going great. How’s yours, sister?”
You ever feel like people are doing that to you on social media? You ever feel like everybody’s life, it’s just one beautiful Instagram picture after the next, just blessing upon blessing. It’s great. What sound it was this morning as my kids came in, bringing me breakfast, singing hymns from the Psalter. Oh, it was. Happens every… Oh, boy. One was singing in Hebrew, of course, the other in Aramaic. Amazing! That’s not your life?
Ah, happy, fortune. How are things going, sis?
We come to the next episode. Verse 14, and things go from weirder to weirder. “In the days of the wheat harvest Reuben,” so we don’t know how many years, is Reuben just a little boy going out? Is he a young man? How many years have passed? But he goes out and he brings in these mandrakes.
Now you need to know something about mandrakes. They were considered in the ancient world to have something of a mysterious property to them. In fact, even today you can find certain pagan groups still talk about these magical mandrakes. Sort of a big, leafy green with a root under the ground. They were reputed to be something of an aphrodisiac.
Think about that song, was it from the 60s? Love Potion No. 9. That’s kind of what the mandrakes were. Just take this.
There’s a resonance with the Hebrew. The word for mandrakes, dudaim, dudaim, mandrakes. Sounds like the word “dod” for lover or “dodim” for love.
The forked roots that you would pull up. Some people even thought it looked sort of like a human torso, maybe it had some sexual magic to it. They could emit a strong fragrance that was often associated with love and enchantment. Song of Solomon, chapter 7, verse 13: “The mandrakes give forth fragrance and beside our doors are all choice fruit, new as well as old, which I have laid for you, O my beloved.” Even there in the Song of Solomon the mandrakes are associated with great love and wooing and intimacy.
So it certainly seems that Rachel in wanting these mandrakes is not just, “Hey, I’m a little hungry. I thought about making a super salad here.” She thinks, “This is going to help me have a child. This is my secret potion that I’ll finally be able to bear a son with my husband.”
So Leah says, “Well, you took my husband, you’re going to take my son’s mandrakes?” No, there’s a price. Rachel says, “Okay, you can sleep with Jacob if I can have the mandrakes.” So Leah buys a night and apparently it opened the door for more nights because two children come as a result in time. Leah buys a night with Jacob by selling off her son’s mandrakes, and they sleep together.
Surely there is meant to be a connection with Jacob’s conniving and scheming and what we see here. Just as Jacob purchased his birthright with a pot of stew, so Leah purchases the right to more offspring by her son’s mandrakes. In both cases, you have a son returning from the field and in both cases you have someone with a desperate hunger. Esau was desperate for food, he said, “Whatever, just give me the stew.” Rachel is desperate for children. She says, “Whatever, you can have my husband, I just want the fertility pills.”
Leah has more children as a result. Issachar, “God has rewarded me for giving my maidservant.” Zebulun, means some sort of honor, “my husband will honor me.” Then there’s a note, some years later, so sometime long after the seven years of service to Laban, she has a daughter Dinah. Ah, so Leah has six sons, a daughter, the number of perfection, wouldn’t you think? Seven. To make things even worse for Rachel.
You never hear Rachel having any success with the mandrakes. It backfires. She thinks, “I’ll get the mandrakes and I’ll have a baby. Sure, sleep with Jacob.” As a result, Leah has two more kids and Rachel is still barren.
In the midst of this, Leah utters what I think is one of the saddest verses in all of Genesis. You see it in verse 20, just dripping with pathos: God has endowed me with a good endowment; now my husband will honor me. Now my husband will love me because I have borne him six sons.
After all of this, how many years, now Jacob, will you love me? Have I done enough? Have I shown myself? Have I proven myself?
It’s a tragedy of an unloved wife. May it not be so with any wife here, or maybe the shoe is on the other foot, any husband here.
Now I know sometimes there’s such grievous sins, and there are certain sins that break the covenant of marriage and do admit for divorce, we don’t encourage divorce but God does allow divorce upon certain breakings of the covenant, through adultery, so we’re not minimizing sins that people have committed against you. But you should look in your own heart. May it not be so among any couples here that one could say about the other, “If only he loved me, if only she loved me.” There is almost nothing more painful than to go through life, year after year, decade after decade, and have a spouse who barely tolerates you, or it’s way past that, it’s worse than that, there’s open loathing or sometimes worst of all, there’s just a quiet frost that has descended upon the marriage.
Leah is desperate. Jacob, would you look at me? Would you honor me? Would you talk to me? I’m not what you wanted, but I’m here. I’m your wife. We’re together. Would you love me?
And it seems as if he never did. That’s why I say it’s one of the saddest verses anywhere in the Bible.
Rachel finally has a child. God remembers her, verse 22. Of course, it’s not that God forgets like He had a mental breakdown, but “remember” meaning He heard, He recalled, He brought it to mind. He had favor upon her and took away Rachel’s disgrace and gave to her a son.
There’s two plays on the word “Joseph” here. God has taken away, meaning “my reproach,” her sense of embarrassment, her misery, and then Joseph meaning “add,” may the Lord add to me another son. She does recognize, at least, it was the Lord who added this child.
Now I want to be very careful how I say this. Certainly this passage should not be taken to be against all forms of modern medical intervention. There are modern procedures that can help with fertility and they’re far different from magical mandrakes, so this is not opposed to all of those, though consult your pastor, consult a Christian doctor. There are some that would be beyond the bounds, but there are certainly some and many have had success.
But here’s the sobering reality, but the hopeful reality at the same time, even for all of the wonders of modern medicine and the things we know and the different things that can be done, it still is the case ultimately, it is the Lord who opens and closes the womb. That’s sobering. It’s sobering because it means He may choose not to. In His own inscrutable purposes He may choose not to. There’s nothing that all of the medical remedies in the world can do. Sometimes that is the Lord’s mysterious hard providence. It’s a sobering reality.
Also a hopeful one, because it means that ultimately for any who have that burden, have felt that pain, are offering those prayers, it’s ultimately the Lord, the Lord must be the one. The Lord uses means and uses our brains, but it’s the Lord who must in His kindness and mercy open the womb and He sometimes does after many, many years.
He did here for Rachel.
What then, as we close, what can we say is God doing in this story? Well, for starters, He’s showing the family, and He’s showing us, that doing things your way instead of God’s way is never the right way. Doing things your way instead of God’s way is never the right way.
Jacob gets some things right. He’s growing. He understands I’m not in a place of God, God has to do this. Maybe possibly we could even excuse for a moment his polygamy, sinful though it is, as a good faith effort to ease family tensions. Maybe. But the picture of Jacob here is one who is weak, who is selfish. Jacob who has gotten where he is by scheming, those schemes have backfired. That scheming was turned on its head. Laban was the one who tricked the trickster, that’s how he ended up with two wives, that’s how he has this rivalry. Jacob’s conniving schemes won’t get him out of this anymore. Sin has consequences.
Do you see over and over that doing things our way instead of God’s way is not the right way? It’s not the best way? Do you see this sadness in this passage? Rachel. Do you notice she finally at the end here, she has a son, and what does she name him? “I want another son.”
This is what happens. Sometimes the one thing we want in life. What’s even more dangerous, what’s even harder than not getting the one thing you want in life, is if you get the one thing you want in life and then you realize you’re still not satisfied. Because as long as you didn’t have the one thing you could tell yourself, “If I had that one thing, problems go away, I’m happy, life is meaningful, life is fulfilled.”
But then sometimes you get it and you realize, “I still am empty.”
Rachel rejoiced, for sure, in Joseph. But isn’t it telling that she names him, “May God give me another one. I’m not satisfied. I still want more.”
Or Leah, shows us the danger of living for someone else’s approval. God’s given her six children and still at the birth of the sixth she’s thinking, “Won’t my husband love me?”
Then there’s Jacob, the wickedness of withholding affection for his wife, his weakness, his selfishness.
The children are almost named for inter-family conflict. How would you like that? Here’s our extended family. We got 11, it’s going to be 12 sons, and almost all of them are named to spite someone else in the family.
That’s not good. Doing things your way instead of God’s way is never the best way.
But we also see God acting, once again, on behalf of the underdog, on behalf of the one who seems to have nothing going for him or her.
Notice Jacob doesn’t care for Leah. Notice her father Laban is not in the picture to even seem to notice what’s happening with Leah and have mercy upon her plight and sit down and talk to his son-in-law, say, “Jacob, what’s going on?” We have no record that Jacob cared or Laban noticed, but God does.
Calvin comments, “Jacob’s extravagant love for Rachel was corrected by the Lord, and so God in mercy looked upon Leah and gave her children.”
And as we know, not only children, but the promised line, the kingship, the Messiah, will come, the priestly line will come through Levi. The Messiah, the kingly line, will come through Judah. Isn’t this just like God in the book of Genesis? “Okay, I’m going to start this family. Who should I take? Well, I want you to be really, really old, until you’re as good as dead. Yep. I’ll do it with Abraham and Sarah. Okay, next up. Let’s get this son, let’s almost kill him. Yeah, through him, that’ll be the promised line. All right, next in line, let’s, no, no, we’re going to switch this up. I don’t want the older, that’s what everybody does, I want the younger, and now, okay, I don’t want the wife who’s loved, I’m taking the wife who’s hated. That’s going to be the promised line.”
God does it again and again, acting on behalf of the weak, the torn, the sad, the despondent.
Finally, notice, as we’ve seen all throughout the book of Genesis, God again blessing the family, not because of themselves but despite themselves. If they had eyes to see, they would have noticed in the midst of all this family drama, all this back-biting, sniping, naming to spite you, by the end of this passage there are 11 sons. Jacob’s family is in the process of becoming a great nation.
So here’s at least one of the lessons, one of the lessons for you, and God doesn’t shame you for your pain or tell you that everything in your life is great. He doesn’t tell you to stop lamenting. There’s real hurt, there’s real pain, there’s real unfulfilled desires. But don’t miss how God is blessing you. It may be you have forgotten what you have because you can only see what you do not have.
In the midst of this, at any time, Rachel could have seen what she had, “I have a husband, he loves me. I now have two children from my maidservant. I’ve a sister, I could rejoice in her blessing.” She can’t see what she has because she only has eyes for what she doesn’t have.
Same thing with Leah. She could see, “Wow, what God has done for me, and my poor sister as she doesn’t have any children, now I’ve had six children. My, how God has…” but all she can see is the one thing she doesn’t have, she doesn’t have the love of her husband.
Many of you would have seen the Pixar movie Up. It’s very poignant. The opening scene, without any words, is one of the most moving scenes you’ll ever see in a movie, as you have the couple, the man who’s now old in the movie by the flashback, and meeting his wife, and when they were little kids. It goes through with the music and just shows them getting married and the pain of losing a child, until eventually his wife dies. It’s just so moving in just a matter of minutes. Then the story then picks up, as Carl, is that his name? Who’s living in his house and everything around him, the city is developing and they want to tear down his house and he won’t move as skyscrapers go up. Finally he has this Boy Scout sort of boy who’s there trying to get his merit badge to help old people and they end up getting helium balloons and they float away and go on an adventure. It’s called Up no doubt because there’s balloons and he floats away in this house, but surely it’s called Up because part of the story is that in this adventure and in this relationship with this boy, this old man, though he doesn’t have to forget the love of his life, he doesn’t have to pretend there’s no pain, he learns to look up, to see that life is not over for him, that there are blessings, that there are adventures, that there are relationships yet to be had for him. Look up.
It’s easy to have eyes open to our hurt. It’s easy to have eyes wide open to see all of the good things that other people have that you don’t seem to have. May God by His Spirit give us the grace to open our eyes to see what we do have, what God is doing.
Here in the midst of all this dysfunction, God was up to something unimaginably big and good. He was making a name for Himself. He was building a great nation. He was blessing them that through them they might be a blessing to the world, and through this family all of us are here, blessed as we worship the seed that came from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the Lord Jesus Christ.
You don’t have to shut your eyes and pretend that you don’t have hurt. You don’t have to pretend that the world around you is not happening, but does want us to open our eyes even wider, even bigger, even more receptive, to see the good that He still is doing, the blessing that He still has for us, and how none of His promises have fallen to the ground, but all of them are yes and amen, in Christ.
Let’s pray. Father in heaven, help us wherever that pain is for us. It may be just like this sorry, it may be a loveless spouse, a loveless marriage. It may be the pain of wanting children. It may be other relational dynamics. For so many here, it’s the very poignant loss of a spouse who has died, a father, a mother, a brother, even a child. So help us, Lord, to see Your blessings for us in the midst of difficulty. Help us to trust You enough to do things Your way, not our way, and to know that You love us even when we feel unloved. We pray all this in Jesus’ name. Amen.