This is a Bible Study which I originally wrote for Great Harwood Christian Fellowship. If you want any more information about the Fellowship then I would be more than happy to respond to your queries. Please e-mail me (you can do this by clicking the box on my home page).
The study starts at Genesis Chapter 27, verse 41. Just click on the part you wish to go to or read it all from the beginning!.
41Esau held a grudge against Jacob because of the blessing his father had given him. He said to himself, "The days of mourning for my father are near; then I will kill my brother Jacob."
42When Rebekah was told what her older son Esau had said, she sent for her younger son Jacob and said to him, "Your brother Esau is consoling himself with the thought of killing you. 43Now then, my son, do what I say: Flee at once to my brother Laban in Haran. 44Stay with him for a while until your brother's fury subsides. 45When your brother is no longer angry with you and forgets what you did to him, I'll send word for you to come back from there. Why should I lose both of you in one day?"
46Then Rebekah said to Isaac, "I'm disgusted with living because of these Hittite women. If Jacob takes a wife from among the women of this land, from Hittite women like these, my life will not be worth living."
The passage starts just after Isaac has given Jacob his blessing (as a result of Jacob's deception).
Looking at this short passage as a whole I feel that it contains one main message - that there is always a price to pay for sin. And the price in this case was quite high wasn't it? - Jacob having to go into exile. When we sin we may find also that the consequences are dire - separation from our family and friends and (although not entirely of course) from God (the "wilderness experience"). This is the trouble is it not? We don't realise what dire consequences sin does have. If we realised the consequences then we wouldn't sin. It is the same for the believer and the non-believer alike. The non-believer doesn't realise the consequences of sin - he doesn't realise that it leads to the eternal pain and suffering of hell. He goes about his daily life oblivious to the horrors that await him. He has no thought for it, he just lives for the pleasures he sees before him and not the suffering that lies on the horizon - he is short-sighted. But the believer is guilty too. He sees the sufferings of hell on the horizon but does not see the pain hidden behind the pleasures infront of him - he is like a man who is long-sighted whose vision of the horizon is clear but whose vision of the written word infront of him is blurred so that he can't see what it is really saying.
Both Jacob and Rebecca suffer the consequences of their own sinfulness. Jacob is sent into exile away from his family and Rebecca suffers the loss of her son (it is interesting to note that although Rebecca seems to think that absence of her son will be of only short duration - when Esau's anger subsides and she can send word for him to come back - there is nothing anywhere else in the Bible as far as I am aware which indicates that Rebecca ever saw Jacob again.
The passage also shows us that God's purposes cannot be frustrated. God's purposes were fulfilled despite the sin of Rebecca and Jacob. That is not to say that God made Rebecca and Jacob sin in order that his purposes would be fulfilled. I am sure that God would have used some other method to fulfill his purposes if they hadn't sinned. I can't say what that would have been, of course, but God's character permits no other conclusion than his purposes be fulfilled. And note that God's purposes were fulfilled not only inspite of Rebecca's and Jacob's sin but also despite Esau's. Esau wanted to sin terribly - he wanted to kill Jacob - but God did not let this frustrate his purpose, a way was found for Jacob to escape from Esau's clutches. God will for ever defeat evil.
We also see that the result of Jacob's blessing was Esau's hatred. We should not be surprised therefore if we who are blessed by God are hated by the world. And see that there are no limits to this hatred - Esau wanted to kill his brother. Christians have suffered persecution unto death throughout the centuries in much the same way. We all live very cosily here in England and give no thought to the possiblity that we might have to die for our beliefs (and, God willing, we won't have too!), but the possibilty is there nevertheless, it is just below the surface (and at a surprisingly shallow depth - unless you heed the warnings of Scripture).
"Below the surface" is an apt description as this passage goes on to show. The world's enmity is often just hidden from view. Esau's hatred was - he did not look to take revenge immediately but rather planned to act "normally" until the death of his father. His father was a restraining factor on his evil plans and ways in the same way as governments can be a restraining influence upon evil in our own society. If that restraining influence is removed then sin can be given a greater freedom to reap its horrors. Look at Russia and China: overthrow of governments have lead to much Christian suffering. What if our governments changed? Where would we be as Christians? As I say, evil lurks only just beneath the surface. Difficult to believe sometimes but we only have to look at what happened in Germany last century (to the Jews, naturally not Christians, but the principle is the same) or more recently in Kosovo where neighbour turned against neighbour so quickly.
And does the passage not also show just how men revel in their sinful ways - Esau was so enrapt in his evil thoughts that he could not help himself, he could not stop himself from sharing them (and thus news reached Rebecca). Such revelling is endemic in our society. I don't think I need to give you examples.
What is there to learn from Jacob's reaction to Esau's plan? I think what I have learnt is that it is not always right in each and every circumstance to immediately confront sin face to face and seek a showdown. That can make matters worse. Sometimes it is better to leave matters to settle down. Jacob's decision to flee from Esau's presence and give him time to forget ultimately satiated Esau's evil lusts. I think that this is also what the father of the prodigal son did. He didn't chase after his son but left him to return in his own time. Running after him would not have resulted in reconciliation in his particular circumstances. It was only when the prodigal returned and the father saw him in the distance that the father came running to him.
Finally, what this passage says to me is that we should learn not only from our own mishaps but we must draw lessons from the lives of those around us. The unhappiness of Esau with the Canaanite women led Rebecca to Isaac seeing that Isaac should seek a wife from among the daughters of Laban.
So Isaac called for Jacob and blessed him and commanded him: "Do not marry a Canaanite woman. 2Go at once to Paddan Aram, to the house of your mother's father Bethuel. Take a wife for yourself there, from among the daughters of Laban, your mother's brother. 3 May God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and increase your numbers until you become a community of peoples. 4May he give you and your descendants the blessing given to Abraham, so that you may take possession of the land where you live now as an alien, the land God gave to Abraham." 5Then Isaac sent Jacob on his way, and he went to Paddan Aram, to Laban son of Bethuel the Aramean, the brother of Rebekah, who was the mother of Jacob and Esau.
6Now Esau learned that Isaac had blessed Jacob and sent him to Paddan Aram to take a wife from there, and that when he blessed him he commanded him, "Do not marry a Canaanite woman," 7and that Jacob had obeyed his father and mother and had gone to Paddan Aram. 8Esau then realised how displeasing the Canaanite women were to his father Isaac; 9so he went to Ishmael and married Mahalath, the sister of Nebaioth and daughter of Ishmael son of Abraham, in addition to the wives he already had.
Now I am going to look at the first 9 verses of Genesis Chapter 28. You will recall that last week's study finished at the point where Rebecca had suggested to her husband, Isaac, that it would not be a good idea for Jacob to marry a Canaanite woman. She had found out that Esau was planning to do away with Jacob and therefore thought up this scheme to procure Jacob's safety.
To some extent it is strange that Rebecca should even have to use this ruse because it might seem only natural that Jacob refrain from marrying a Canaanite - for did not Abraham also indicate that Isaac himself should not marry a Canaanite (see Chapter 24:3). Perhaps that might be the reason why Isaac so easily fell in with Rebecca's wishes even though it meant the absence (for an unknown time) of his son. Another explanation for Isaac's complicity may be that he too had discovered Esau's evil plottings and therefore gladly embraced a means of securing Jacob's safety. The New International Version, however, does not, I believe, allow this possibility because it uses the preposition "so" to link Rebecca's expression of the unsuitability of Canaanite suitors to Isaac's immediate command to Jacob.
"So Isaac called for Jacob and blessed him". Isaac had, of course, already unintentionally blessed Jacob (Genesis 27:27-29). Here he gives Jacob an intentional blessing which promised Jacob fruitful and numerous descendants who would possess the land in which they now lived as aliens. This free act of Isaac reinforced God's elective purposes. It shows how God uses free human action to fulfil His intentions.
That "God works in mysterious ways" is certainly a truism. We see that quite clearly in this particular narrative. Who would have thought that the way to blessing would be for Jacob not only to leave the country in which he was already living as an alien but to move to a land where he was even more a stranger (for whilst it may have been the homeland of his grandfather Abraham it was not a country he had visited before). I wonder what Jacob would have thought about his father's command. Even if he had been expecting it (because there was, as we have seen, precedent in Abraham's descendants not marrying Canaanite women and because Jacob might already have noticed how displeasing Esau's marriages had already been to his father) I have no doubt that Jacob would face the prospect without a little fear and misapprehension. Jacob's actions though show us how we should react to God's wishes for our lives. It is not for us to seek His blessings in our own way. The sure way to receiving God's blessings is to obey his commands - "Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the Lord." (Psalm 1:2a). Jacob obeyed the commandment of God that was written in his heart (he obeyed his parents) and thus he received God's blessings (even if that meant he had to go through a number of trials and tribulations before he finally received what had been promised to him). Similarly we too should not be surprised if blessings do not come upon us from unexpected quarters and in unexpected ways. When we look back on our lives we will finally see that "in all things God works for the good of those who love him".
From Isaac's point of view too, his prayerful blessing of Jacob is a beautiful expression of faith in the benevolent sovereignty of God. Isaac clearly recognised that God could bring good things to pass in the life of his son through whom the covenant people of God would grow. Isaac frankly recognised that without the blessing of God, the future is left to chance and subject to hostile forces and human nature. Only with God are things certain.
Verses 6 to 9 are a sort of interlude in the story of Jacob. When Esau realised that his parents were grieved by his marriage to the Canaanite women, and that accordingly they had sent Jacob to Haran to get a wife, he seems to have tried to gain favour with them by marrying a daughter of Ishmael named Mahalath.
He apparently reasoned that since Ishmael was related through Abraham, this marriage should be pleasing to them. He did not recognize in this, however, that Ishmael had been separated from the house of Abraham by God Himself. His intention may have been good, but he did not really improve his position, either with his parents or with God. The fact that he "went to Ishmael" meant that he went to Ishmael's family. Ishmael had died fourteen years earlier. Esau's attempt to please his parents was just another indication of his scheming (quite a pair Jacob and Esau!) because there is no record that Esau put away his heathen wives and therefore his desire for a non-Canaanite wife must have been half-hearted at the most. Another reason for Esau to want to please his father would be a direct result of Jacob's absence - he might be able to use the time productively to get his father to change his will and give his inheritance to himself rather than to Jacob.
10Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Haran. 11 When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. 12He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13There above it stood the LORD, and he said: "I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. 14Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. 15 I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you."
16When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, "Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it." 17He was afraid and said, "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, this is the gate of heaven."
18Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it. 19He called that place Bethel, though the city used to be called Luz.
20Then Jacob made a vow, saying, "If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear 21 so that I return safely to my father's house, then the LORD will be my God 22and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God's house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth."
We have now reached the tenth verse of the twenty-eighth chapter of Genesis and we will now look at the verses following, up to and including verse 22. The verses cover Jacob's dream of the ladder as he is on his way to the house of his uncle Laban to escape the evil intentions of his brother Esau.
As we have seen already in these studies, the consequences of sin for Jacob were quite severe - he had to move away from his family and friends for an indeterminate period. I think that the first thing that these particular verses teach us, therefore, is that we are never truly alone because God is with us and God will always meet us in our need. Jacob must have been at a very low ebb. He has had to give up those things that he knew well and that could give comfort to move somewhere else which was filled with uncertainty. He had to do this by himself (in the earthly sense). We can find ourselves in similar positions today. God's purposes for us may include our moving away from the comforts of our home and the comfort of routines, to take up specific tasks involving us in something which is beyond the realms of our experience and with regard to which we feel inadequate and isolated. It is at just these times that God is there to help. God was there for Jacob when Jacob was in this particular situation. It was God's purpose that Jacob be in this situation; it would be extraordinary for God not to be there for Jacob. It was not therefore extraordinary for Jacob to have the vision of God at this particular point in his life and this give us an assurance that God will be there when He is needed and therefore we can rest secure in the knowledge that we are never truly alone. Not that God will necessarily deal with our own circumstances in the same way as He dealt with Jacob in his circumstances, but He will deal with us in a way commensurate with His infinite wisdom such that it is ultimately for our good.
It can't have been a comfortable night's sleep for Jacob. He must have been weary after his 40 mile trek to his resting place. And when he gets there he has nothing to use for a pillow other than a hard rock. But despite these hardships he nevertheless was able to rest peacefully simply because he knew that he was under God's wing of protection. He could therefore rest secure. We may sometimes have to lay our heads on the hard rock of life but nevertheless we can rest peacefully because we serve a risen Saviour and we know with the full assurance of faith that these are only transient difficulties and pain and can l ook forward to life eternal in Paradise with Almighty God as our friend.
Let's look at the dream that Jacob had that night. He saw a ladder which reached from earth to heaven, the angels ascending and descending upon it, and God himself at the head of it. There are two things represented here - the providence of God and the mediation of Christ. As regards the providence of God, this dream illustrates to us that there is a constant communication between God in heaven and his children on earth. God sends to us his angels who are ministering spirits. What a comfort it is to know that there is this constant traffic between heaven and earth, a ceaseless round of activity as God sees to our every need. Far from being alone, as Jacob might have thought he was, Jacob was surrounded by the throng of God's helpers and the ministers of his affections. But it is not just Jacob that is in this position. Jacob is simply a type for the whole Church in this respect. We too are surrounded and embraced by God's love in this way. As I say, it is a tremendous word of comfort in our hours of need, desperation and loneliness.
As regards the mediation of Christ, the message is clear. The ladder represents Christ who is both divine and human. The top of the ladder is in heaven and yet at the same time it's foot rests upon the earth. It shows us in yet another way that there is only one way to God. It shows us that Christ is the way the truth and the life. All God's favour comes to us and all our service goes to Him through Christ who is our ladder.
But God did not only show Jesus the ladder, He spoke to him too. Note that He spoke from the top of the ladder (i.e. through Jesus). It shows us how to pray to God - that is, through Christ the mediator. The actual words God spoke must also have been a great encouragement to Jacob. God repeated his promises. This shows the extent of His love. He need not have said anything. He only needs to speak his promises once. God, being God, does no other than fulfil his promises. But we are human and we often forget these fundamental truths, or not exactly forget them, but rather fail to keep them close by our hearts at all times. God knows us so well! So what does He do? He gives us his promises and then, to re-assure us, he affirms them and re-affirms them constantly through His words and His actions.
Jacob is given fresh promises as well, however - promises that were particularly relevant to his present condition. At this moment in time, Jacob would clearly be apprehensive of the danger from his brother Esau but God tells him that he need not worry. God promises to keep him. Again this is a reassurance to those of us who walk in the footsteps of Jacob. We need not worry because we have God to protect us. Jesus, of course, preached the same message in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:25-34 - one of my favourite passages!).
Note the depth of God's promises too. Yes, they spoke to Jacob's present conditions, but they spoke also of the future. Jacob did not know at this time what hardships were going to face him in the service of his uncle, but God foresaw it and therefore promises to preserve Jacob wherever he is and whatever difficulties threaten to overcome him. Again it is a note of great reassurance to us. There is nothing that can separate us from Him - "For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:38-39).
The vision and words of God came to Jacob whilst he slept. He was purely passive in receiving the blessings of God. It is important to note thought that Jacob didn't remain passive when he woke up. He appropriated God's blessings and acted upon them. It is the same in the process of salvation itself. It is a two way thing. I do not want to get into a deep discussion of Calvinism and Arianism as I have no doubt that you have a far better grasp on this subject than I do. My own belief though is that salvation comes from God. I believe that all men are by nature are alienated from God and they can do nothing in and of themselves to secure that reconciliation. They cannot change their own minds and "decide for God" if God does not first affect that change and make their minds receptive to His grace - "The mind of sinful man is death" (Romans 8:6 and also see 1 Corinthians 2:14) But if God in his infinite grace and mercy chooses to bless us then it is equally up to us to act upon and receive that blessing from Him in the same way that Jacob here rises from his pillow and acts as is appropriate to the blessing with which he had so graciously been bestowed.
This event in the life of Jacob takes on a special importance because Jesus appropriated it for Himself whilst he was talking to Nathanael (John 1:51). Jesus used Jacob's vision to explain to Nathanael how men get to heaven - i.e. through Jesus, the ladder, as we have seen. Jesus had never met Nathanael before. He saw Nathanael coming to him, and said of him, "Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false." The word Jesus used for "false" means to catch with bait, beguile deceit". He is not going to be like Jacob and make use of double dealings of deceit.
This took Nathanael completely by surprise. Nathanael said to him, "How do you know me?" and Jesus replied, "I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you." What was Nathanael doing under the fig tree I wonder? Wouldn't you just love to know? He was under the cover of the fig tree. No-one knew he was there. No-one saw him but God! Perhaps he was reading this particular passage of Scripture about Jacob. There is also good reason to think he was praying, seeking God's forgiveness, and deliverance from his own deceit. Perhaps when he met Jesus there by the fig tree there rang out in his ears the same response he had received in private with God. He was certainly conscious of Jesus' supernatural knowledge. No-one could know that he had been alone seeking God's presence under that fig tree. But it was known to Jesus! This is God speaking. He alone knows what is happening in a person's heart. He is the only one who can lead us to heaven. He is the doorkeeper. He is the ladder to heaven.
Suddenly Nathanael responds, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel", to which Jesus replies, "You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You shall see greater things than that. I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man." Jesus can do more than read the heart. He opens the door to heaven. Jesus was in unending and unbroken communion with the Father. Nathanael and the other disciples saw the glory of God come down to man. God and man met in Jesus Christ.
The words "heaven open" is the idea of remaining open, or "standing open". Something has occurred in the past and it continues into the future. Heaven stands wide open and now the grace of God is available for every person who believes in the Son of Man. You can come into God's presence. He has forgiven you. The one standing there talking to Nathanael is the "door". He has bridged the gap between heaven and earth. He provides a means for us to enter into God's presence. Sin shut the door. However, Christ has removed the sin bearer that separates us through His death and resurrection. He is the only entrance into heaven because He is "the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world" (Revelation 13:8).
F.F. Bruce writes, "In this application of Jacob's vision, . . . the union between earth and heaven is effected by the Son of Man: He is the mediator between God and the human race. Not only so: the occasion to which the words of Jesus point is none other than the crucifixion. On a later occasion, speaking to a Jerusalem audience, he said, "When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you shall know that I am He" (John 8:28). His being "lifted up" is His exaltation, though His enemies intended it for degradation; the cross is the supreme manifestation of His glory. By the cross heaven is thrown wide open, God draws near to man, and man is reconciled to God" (from "The Gospel of John").
In both these passages the main thought is the idea of communication between heaven and earth. Jesus communicates the realities of heaven to man on this earth. To that we can only cry - "Hallelujah!"
Then Jacob continued on his journey and came to the land of the eastern peoples. 2There he saw a well in the field, with three flocks of sheep lying near it because the flocks were watered from that well. The stone over the mouth of the well was large. 3When all the flocks were gathered there, the shepherds would roll the stone away from the well's mouth and water the sheep. Then they would return the stone to its place over the mouth of the well.
4Jacob asked the shepherds, "My brothers, where are you from?"
"We're from Haran," they replied.
5He said to them, "Do you know Laban, Nahor's grandson?"
"Yes, we know him," they answered.
6Then Jacob asked them, "Is he well?"
"Yes, he is," they said, "and here comes his daughter, Rachel with the sheep."
7"Look," he said, "the sun is still high; it is not time for the flocks to be gathered. Water the sheep and take them back to pasture."
8"We can't," they replied, "until all the flocks are gathered and the stone has been rolled away from the mouth of the well. Then we will water the sheep."
9While he was still talking with them, Rachel came with her father's sheep, for she was a shepherdess. 10When Jacob saw Rachel daughter of Laban, his mother's brother, and Laban's sheep, he went over and rolled the stone away from the mouth of the well and watered his uncle's sheep. 11Then Jacob kissed Rachel and began to weep aloud. 12He had told Rachel that he was a relative of her father and a son of Rebekah. So she rand and told her father.
13As soon as Laban heard the news about Jacob, his sister's son, he hurried to meet him. He embraced him and kissed him and brought him to his home, and there Jacob told him all these things. 14Then Laban said to him, "You are my own flesh and blood."
Now I am going to look at Genesis Chapter 29:1-14.
Jacob has left Bethel with a lightness in his step and a new lease on life. Before his encounter with God, he could only refer to his father's God as "your God" (27:20). Now, Yahweh was Jacob's God (28:21). He had seen the vision of the ladder from heaven and heard the promise of God of His presence, provision and protection. He had the assurance of his return to the land and the blessings of Abraham (28:10-17). There was a new sense of direction, a new hope, and a new meaning to life. He was still going to Haran, but God was with him. It was this very fact of the knowledge of God's presence in his life that changed his life and gave him a whole new outlook. Should the presence of God in our lives not also do the same for us? Let us learn and take to heart these worthy lessons that God provides us with in his Word.
The lightness in Jacob's step was not because of the fact that he was now too far for Esau to get to him. He was far enough away that it would take some time for Esau to reach him but he wasn't safe for long. He was 450 miles away which is a journey which, in those days, could easily be completed in 4 months with a camel (or, if you drive like me, 5 hours in a car!). The thing that happened, I would remind you, that changed Jacob's outlook was the presence of God in his life. When we were young it was always a good feeling to know that our parents were there to protect us. What security that gave to us. Also the buildings in which we lived gave us some measure of protection. We could run home and shut the door behind us knowing that we were safe from those that would do us harm. How much more secure and protected should we be therefore when we know that we have the Almighty Father protecting us and looking over us and how much more sheltered are we knowing that a mansion has been prepared in heaven for us!
God had given Jacob his optimism. Jacob was running for his life but God promised him safety. He had a new beginning! This is NOT and indication that God approved of Jacob's tactics of obtaining the birthright and the blessing but that God wanted Jacob to know that despite the threat to his life he was to continue without fear.
God has a similar promise to you and I. We are to be able to say "I can continue and succeed despite my failures because God is on my side." Our responses to our past failures in work and in life often shape our confidence in ourselves. When we approach our job and our families with our failures in mind we think, "I can't do that because ..." or "I just work at...there's no way I'll be able to..." or "All I have ever done is..." or "I really blew it when I ..." All of a sudden we find ourselves looking for reasons why we can't do something new like pursuing a different job or making some other change within our lives.
Do you ever approach the things you have to do with fear rather than approaching them with optimism? You may not be fearing for your life like Jacob but there is nevertheless an undercurrent of fear that inhibit us in our walk in this world. How about the fear of failure? Someone once said, "Those that never fail at anything never do anything". If you allow the fear of failure to dictate your life you will forever remain in a comfort zone and miss out on God's blessing in your life. How about fear of ability or qualification to do something? This can make us miss out too. Did Joseph have the qualifications to be the second in command to Pharaoh? Did Moses have the qualifications to l ead Israel out of Egypt? The difference between the two is simply that one, Joseph, had the credential of Optimism. Moses didn't! He wasted time trying to convince God that he didn't have what it took to speak to Pharaoh. Therefore, I would say that, if you have these fears, "God is calling you, pursue high and allow someone else to change your target." You will always have something significant to offer because God is on your side. You are in a personal relationship with the Son of God, you are in right relationship with the Father, because of the Son, and you have the Holy Spirit who has given us both power a nd authority to succeed. Our spiritual gifts are given not only to edify the body of Christ but also so that they can be used in our daily lives to bring honour to God. "... God has said never will I leave you, never will I forsake you. So we say with confidence, The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid." (Hebrews 13:5-6).
Back to the verses we are studying!
As he approached Haran, Jacob came upon a well which was in a field. It was a different well, I believe, from that one to which the servant of Abraham came (Genesis 24:11). That well was a spring located outside the city to which the women came to draw drinking water (24:11,13). The well to which Jacob came was one in a field well away from the city, and it was more of a cistern from which the cattle drank directly. This well was covered by a large stone, which tended to keep it from being polluted or filled with sand. Perhaps more importantly, it restricted the use of that well to particular times and only to authorised persons. The shepherds, perhaps young lads, sat about the well waiting for the time when they could water their sheep. Jacob engaged these shepherds in conversation (29:4-6). Jacob wanted to learn how far he was from his destination. The shepherd's response told him that he was near to Haran. His question about Laban's welfare was not academic. He had a vital interest in the present state of affairs in Laban's family. To some degree the success of his journey could be measured by the shepherds' reply. To Jacob's relief Laban was doing well, and more than this, he had a daughter who was to arrive at the well soon. It was best to wait for her to be directed to his home.
In the meantime Jacob enquired about a matter which struck him as quite unusual (29:7-8) - The watering of the sheep. The sheep would not be gathered in for the night until much later, as it was still early in the day. It made little sense to Jacob for these shepherds to be sitting about the well waiting until later to water their sheep when they could water them now and take them back to pasture for several hours. The practical thing to do was to water the sheep now and not wait until later.
The shepherds were not at all impressed by the question or informed as to the care of sheep. Indeed, his question may have seemed foolish to them. Of course, Jacob was right. Even these lads knew that sheep grew faster grazing on the grassland rather than standing about the well where the grass had long before been consumed. However, the well was not, it seems to be used at their convenience.
A well was a valuable resource, much as an oil well would be today. As such, it had to belong to somebody, and that person would prescribe how and when the well was to be used, and probably at what price. The agreement between the well owner and the shepherds seems to be that the well could be used once a day. The shepherds must first be gathered at the well with their flocks. Then the owner or his hired servants would roll the stone away and the sheep could be watered, perhaps in the order that the flocks arrived. This would explain why the shepherds and their flocks were there so early. In this way, what was most profitable (this is what Jacob's question was getting at) was not practical. The owner's stipulations must be adhered to.
During the course of this conversation Rachel arrived. With this, Jacob had little interest in the shepherd boys, for she was a relative and a lovely girl (29:9-12). Some commentators actually suggest that Jacob suggested to the shepherds that they water their sheep immediately in order to get rid of them before Rachel arrived so that he could meet her alone. This hardly seems to be the case, however. He would not have known her age or beauty and surely would have wanted to meet her under proper circumstances.
What is interesting is the sequence of events that occurred when Jacob and Rachel met. Would you not have expected Jacob to introduce himself first, then to kiss her, and finally to water the sheep? It is the reverse, however, that occurs. First Jacob watered the sheep of Laban, casting aside any consideration of what he had been told by the shepherds. Then he kissed her and finally he introduced himself as her relative. Thus Jacob cast aside all convention and perhaps Rachel was swept off her feet by such a romantic gesture (although that would involve considerable reading between the lines!) Nevertheless it does teach us that we should be anxious to serve those whom we love. As we love a risen Saviour we should be anxious to serve Him in all that we do.
(For the sake of completeness, I would mention that some of the Jewish writers have suggested, that Jacob, when he kissed Rachel, wept because he had been set upon in his journey by Eliphaz the eldest son of Esau, at the command of his father, and robbed of all his money and jewels, which his mother had given him when she sent him away. However, as Matthew Henry points out in his commentary, "it was plain that it was his passion for Rachel, and the surprise of this happy meeting, that drew these tears from his eyes")
After Jacob had stayed with him for a whole month, 15Laban said to him, "Just because you are a relative of mine, should you work for me for nothing? Tell me what your wages should be."
16Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. 17Leah had weak eyes, but Rachel was lovely in form, and beautiful. 18Jacob was in love with Rachel and said, "I'll work for you seven years in return for your younger daughter Rachel."
19Laban said, "It's better that I give her to you than to some other man. Stay here with me." 20So Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her.
21Then Jacob said to Laban, "Give me my wife. My time is completed, and I want to lie with her."
22So Laban brought together all the people of the place and gave a feast. 23But when evening came, he took his daughter Leah and gave her to Jacob, and Jacob lay with her. 24And Laban gave his servant girl Zilpah to his daughter as her maidservant.
25When morning came, there was Leah! So Jacob said to Laban, "What is this you have done to me? I served you for Rachel, didn't I? Why have you deceived me?"
26Laban replied, "It is not our custom here to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older one. 27Finish this daughter's bridal week; then we will give you the younger one also, in return for another seven year's work."
28And Jacob did so. He finished the week with Leah, and then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel to be his wife.
29Laban gave his servant girl Bilhah to his daughter Rachel as her maidservant.
30Jacob lay with Rachel also, and he loved Rachel more than Leah. And he worked for Laban for another seven years.
Now we are going to study the verses from verse 15 up to the end of verse 30.
The first lesson for us in these verses is the lesson contained in verse 15. Jacob had been with Laban for one month. It is clear from the latter part of the previous verse that Jacob had not been idle during this period. Quite the opposite in fact. Laban's statement produces the irrebuttable presumption that Jacob must have been working diligently in the intervening period between his first meeting with Laban and this point in time, one month on. His hard work, and his respect for Laban by working without reward, receives a reward in and of itself when Laban, moved by Jacob's unselfish labours, suggests that this situation should not continue and Jacob should receive suitable payment. If we work diligently and respectfully like Jacob did for Laban then you can be sure that we will receive our reward. Of course, we have some further motivation. All our actions must be for the Lord - "Slaves, obey your early masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ" (Ephesians 6:5).
There is a message here for employers too. For just as Jacob worked diligently as he should have done for his superior so also does that position of superiority have its own responsibilities and obligations. Those who are in superior positions are duty bound to reward the workers for their labours. The employer/employee relationship is one which, in the absence of Christ as a controlling influence, is always liable to suffer tensions, stresses and strains. We only need look at the problems our modern society have faced in the twentieth century in the field of industrial relations to see the truth of this. You only need look at the innumerable Acts of Parliament which have been passed to solve the problem. But you will never effect a cure with Acts of Parliament. The problem with the unconverted man is that he is always essentially self-centred. He has been self-centred since his earliest days and will not change. He is not evolving into some superior social being as some would have us believe. We might have brains that have created the technological wonders of the modern world but we remain essentially the same in our natures as our forebears who rode around on horseback and in chariots. Man in sin is man in sin. Nothing changes.
We see in verses 14 and 15 how the employer/employee relationship should really work - a fair day's work for a fair day's pay. But we see very soon how sin taints this relationship - each party shows their intrinsic self-centredness. They each have ulterior motives. As we will see, Jacob seeks more than money for his work, he seeks Laban's beautiful daughter, Rachel. But what happens next is surprising - the great deceiver is himself deceived! What wonderful ways God has!
It's a great love story too though isn't it. Imagine having to work for seven years for the one you love! I came across a story that you might like:
A young man by the name of John Blanford went to meet the object of his affection in the main railway station in New York. He stood up, straightened his army uniform, and studied the crowd of people. He looked for the girl whose heart he knew, but whose face he didn't, the girl with the rose. His interest in her had begun thirteen months before in a Florida Army library. Taking a book off the shelf he found himself intrigued, not with the words of the book, but with the notes pencilled in the margin. The soft handwriting reflected a thoughtful soul and insightful mind. In the front of the book, he discovered the previous owner's name, Miss Hollis Maynell. With time and effort he located her address. She lived in New York. He wrote her a letter introducing himself and inviting her to correspond. The next day he was shipped overseas for service in the Second World War. During the next year and one month the two grew to know each other through the mail. Each letter was a seed falling on a fertile heart. A romance was budding. In the process, John and Hollis were learning something about the way of love.
I will go on with the story in a minute, but let me pause for a moment at this point. The love of John and Hollis grew because they an investment - they invested the effort of keeping up their correspondence. Love grows with the making of an investment. Here, in Genesis 29, Jacob is willing to invest not only 7 but 14 years of hard work to gain the object of his affection. As he invested in love, his love grew. If you want to love somebody more than you do then you have to make an investment! If you want to love Jesus more than you do then you have to go out of your way for him. You have to invest in him. Put all your trust in him. It works the other way too - we love him because he first loved us. What wonderful love is there in the life, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ! W hat love did Jesus invest for us when he died on the cross! Do you want to love him more? Then look at him there on the cross with his arms outstretched in love for us.
The way to gain love is to give love. The loveliest people are not those that love themselves but those who love others. The love given to and by those who love themselves is superficial - avoid it like the plague!! Only invest your own love in those who love sincerely. There is no sounder investment than investing your love in God. In the human realm, make sure that you make the right investment. When you find that special person in your life, as you surely will, invest trust, not suspicion; invest forgiveness, not revenge, invest sweetness, not sarcasm; invest tolerance, not harsh demands; invest time to listen, really listen, and hear and care; invest yourself, not merely things and make deposit after deposit into the account of your relationship, making sure that the deposits always exceed the withdrawals.
Anyway, back to the story. As their love developed, John requested a photograph, but Hollis refused. She felt that if he really cared it wouldn't matter what she looked like. When the day finally came for him to return from Europe, they scheduled their first meeting, 6.00pm at the Grand Central Station in New York. "You'll recognise me", she wrote, "by the red rose I'll be wearing on my lapel." So at 6 o'clock sharp he was in the station looking for a girl whose heart he loved, but whose face he'd never seen. He dreamed about finally meeting her and seeing her face, and knowing her personally and not through the medium of mail.
John had waited for this moment. Then a young women was coming towards him, her figure long and slim. Her blonde hair lay back in curls around her delicate ears; her eyes were blue as flowers. Her lips and chin had a gentle firmness, and in her pale green suit she was like springtime come alive. John started towards her, entirely forgetting to notice that she was not wearing a rose. As he moved, a small, provocative smile curved her lips. "Going my way, soldier?" she murmured. John truly wanted to go her way! Almost incontrollably he made one step closer to her. And then he saw the other woman. She was standing almost directly behind the girl. A woman well past 40, she had greying hair tucked under a worn hat, and her large, thick-ankled feet were thrust into low-heeled shoes. The girl in the green suit was walking quickly away. John felt as though he was split in two, so keen was his desire to follow her, and yet so deep was his longing for the woman whose spirit had truly companioned him and upheld his own during the terrible war. And there she stood. Her pale, plump face was gentle and sensible, her grey eyes had a warm and kindly twinkle. John did not hesitate. His fingers gripped the book that was to identify him to her. He squared his shoulders and saluted and held out the book to the woman. "I'm Lieutenant John Blandford, and you must be Miss Maynell. I am so glad you could meet me; may I take you to dinner?" The true nature of a heart is seen in its response to the unattractive. That's the way of love.
The phrase in Genesis 29:17, "Leah had weak eyes", meant that her eyes lacked lustre, fire, sparkle, and depth that were the hallmarks of beauty. If Leah was uncomely, Jacob was not ignorant of that fact nor was he oblivious to the fact that Rachel was beautiful of form and face. But true love looks beyond the externals. True love lies in the heart of one and looks into the heart of another. We should see beauty on the inside of people and not on the outside. God spoke to Samuel when he went to annoint a new king, "Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7). "And let not your adornment be merely external - braiding the hair and wearing gold jewellry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God." (1 Peter 3:3-5). "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful but inside they are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness." (Matthew 23:27).
John Blanford also looked beyond the disappointment he first felt at the middle-aged woman's external appearance and drew upon the love that had grown up in the correspondence over the 13 months. As he spoke the woman's face broadened into a tolerant smile. "I don't know what this is about, son," she answered, "but the young lady in the green suit who just went by, she begged me to wear this rose on my coat. And she said if you were to ask me out to dinner, I should tell you that she is waiting for you in the big restaurant across the street. She said it was some kind of test! I have two sons in the military myself, so I was glad to help out!" A test of love, and John passed with flying colours! He knew the way of love.
Jesus knew the way of love too. He invested himself in our salvation. He invests himself daily in our spiritual growth. He invests daily as he intercedes for us with the Father. He urges us, with no thought of recognition, glory or repayment, to invest in one another. Love one another is still his command. Serve one another is still his way. Reach out and touch one another is still his method. Until you walk his way, live his way, love his way, you know nothing of the way of love.
31When the LORD saw that Leah was not loved, he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren. 32Leah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Reuben, for he said, "It is because the LORD has seen my misery. Surely my husband will love me now."
33She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said, "Because the LORD heard that I am not loved, he gave me this one too." So she named him Simeon.
34Again she conceived, and when she gave birth to a son she said, "Now at last my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons." So he was named Levi.
35She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said, "This time I will praise the LORD." So she named him Judah. Then she stopped having children.
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!"
2Jacob became angry with her and said, "Am I in the place of God, who has kept you from having children?"
3Then she said, "Here is Bilhah, my maidservant. Sleep with her so that she can bear children for me and that through her I too can build a family."
4So she gave him her servant Bilhah as a wife. Jacob slept with her, 5and she became pregnant and bore him a son. 6Then Rachel said, "God has vindicated me; he has listened to my plea and given me a son. Because of this she named him Dan.
7Rachel's servant Bilhah conceived again and bore Jacob a second son. 8Then Rachel said, "I have had a great struggle with my sister, and I have won." So she named him Naphtali.
9When Leah saw that she had stopped having children, she took her maidservant Zilpah and gave her to Jacob as a wife. 10Leah's servant Zilpah bore Jacob a son. 11Then Leah said, "What good fortune!" So she named him Gad.
12Leah'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.
14During 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."
15But 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."
16So 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.
17God listened to Leah, and she became pregnant and bore Jacob a fifth son.
18Then Leah said, "God has rewarded me for giving my maidservant to my husband." So she named him Issachar.
19Leah conceived again and bore Jacob a sixth son. 20Then Leah said, "God has presented me with a precious gift. This time my husband will treat me with honour, because I have borne him six sons. So she named him Zebulun.
21Some time later she gave birth to a daughter and named her Dinah.
22Then God remembered Rachel; he listened to her and opened her womb.
23She became pregnant and gave birth to a son and said, "God has taken away my disgrace." 24She named him Joseph, and said, "May the LORD add to me another son."
It is an amazing passage of Scripture which we are going to look at this week. It reads much like a modern day soap opera - Coronation Street and Eastenders rolled into one! The story told is one of competition between two women and their respective maids, which results in Jacob being shuttled from bedroom to bedroom, tent to tent. God's "soap" is very different to modern day soap-operas, however. Rather than intending to encourage us to think sinful thoughts or to commit illicit acts it is designed to encourage us to clean up our acts and to live righteously.
The division between the families of Leah and Rachel is highlightened by the way the author (Moses) has arranged the text. It seems that Moses may have arranged the births topically rather than in strict chronological order. For example, verse 1 of Chapter 30 reads, "When Rachel saw that she was not bearing Jacob any children..." It does not say that this occurred after Leah had borne children but only at the point when Rachel saw that she was not bearing children. I haven't had time to look at the mathematics of the situation but it may well be the case that it would have been impossible for the 12 children to have been born in the time covered by this story without their being some overlap in the births. Thus, by arranging the births as he has, Moses, may have had the object of enabling us to feel more intensely the division and competition between Leah and Rachel. We read these verses like someone watching a tennis match, we look at first one contestant, then at the other and so on.
In verses 31-35 of Chapter 29 we see Leah longing for Jacob's love. At this point in time, when Reuben is born, she says "surely my husband will love me now". She is still optimistic. She realises that her husband has eyes for someone else but she hopes that this situation will change and sees Reuben's birth as a reason for her husband to change his attitude towards her. Over the accounts of her remaining children we see these hopes fade as she moves from hoping that Jacob will become attached to her (even if not out of love for her) (see verse 34) to simply hoping that Jacob will acknowledge her position if nothing else (Chapter 30:20). We cannot help but feel sorry for Leah. She was in a terrible predicament. She is married to a man who never wanted her for a wife and refuses to give her the love she desperately needs. It was in those circumstances that God first reached out to her and gave her Reuben, her first son.
It was a great joy for Leah to be able to provide Jacob with a son, who would become his heir. This child kindled Leah's hopes of being loved by Jacob, whose love for Rachel was so strong that he hardly acknowledged Leah's existence (which may be why Leah's final hope was as simple as that Jacob should acknowledge her). But Leah's hopes of a small portion of Jacob's affection were not realised as we see with Leah's words at the birth of her second son - "Because the Lord heard that I am not loved". No change in Jacob's attitudes or actions had been perceived by Leah and so when the second son was born she acknowledged the child as the tender response of a loving God who knew the thoughts of her heart. The name Simeon, "he hears", gave testimony to Leah's awareness of the grace of her God.
With the birth of her third son, Leah's hopes for Jacob's tenderness and affection was once again roused as we have seen. But as we have noted, her hopes have become more realistic. She no longer aspires to the high level of love which Jacob had for Rachel but merely for the attachment which she thinks a man should have for a wife who is so fruitful. I think the attachment referred to is now not one of desire but of obligation.
While three sons did little to change Jacob's heart, the birth of the fourth was the occasion for Leah's most devout expression of praise and thanksgiving toward the God who had heard her prayers - "This time I will praise the Lord".
Previously Leah had been grateful to God for the children he had given but uppermost in her thoughts was the effect this would have upon Jacob. This was not the case here though. The pinnacle of Leah's piety was that point at which she came to recognise that to be loved and led by God was a far greater thing than to be loved by any man. Whilst Jacob's affection was still something she greatly desired, she was content with the abundant love of God. This should be a great comfort to us when we are facing hours of loneliness as, sometime in our life, we are all likely to experience. It is at these times in particular that we should look to God and realise just how much we are abundantly blessed by him.
Praising God was easy for Leah with four sons at her side. But then we have the contrast of Rachel's jealousy. The conversation between Rachel and Jacob recorded in the first two verses of Chapter 30 sees neither of them responding in what could be called a pious manner. Rachel, desperately jealous, demanded children of Jacob. She didn't recognise that her barrenness comes from the hand of God. She chooses instead to blame Jacob.
Jacob did not respond well to this kind of demand. Of course, he was right in his logic. It indeed was God that had kept Rachel from bearing children, but Jacob's attitude is nevertheless quite suspect. His hot response seems far removed from true righteous indignation. It was more like he was saying, "Don't blame me, Rachel, blame God." Her demand struck hard at Jacob's virility and male ego, so Jacob struck back just as fiercely. The fact that he employed spiritual language and used God to rebuke her does not mean that his spirit was right in what he did. We need to be careful in the same way that we don't use a spiritual mask to hide the blackness of inner thoughts. What could be more hurtful to God.
Notice the difference between Jacob and his father. Like Rachel, Rebecca had been barren. Isaac's response was quite different, however, to that of Jacob. He prayed on behalf of Rebecca, and on his behalf God gave his wife children (Genesis 25:21). No such prayers are mentioned here, nor are we told that God answered the prayers of Jacob. We are only told that God heard the petitions of the wives. Similarly Elkenah gave Hannah special treatment and tenderness because of her inability to bear children (1 Samuel 1:5,8). There is no such gentleness here.
While we are told that Jacob had a great love for Rachel, it is not very evident at this difficult time in Rachel's life. Her jealousy perhaps implies that she lacks some assurance of Jacob's love. Because of that she is drawn to the desperate proposal of giving her maid, Bilhah, to Jacob. There are definite similarities between this proposal and that of Sarai in Genesis Chapter 16. Each intended to adopt the child born from the union of her husband and the maid, but here the similarity stops. Sarai made her proposal at a time when Abram had no children, while Jacob had several children through Leah. While Sarai's proposal came more from circumstances which seemed to demand desperate measures, Rachel's demand stemmed from her own pride and jealousy. She must have children of her own, and she would take any steps necessary to get them.
The results were as Rachel had hoped, and her response to the birth of this boy sounded most spiritual. One would think that Rachel had done a most wonderful and sacrificial thing in giving her maid to Jacob. Her words were intended to give credit to God for all that she and He had accomplished together. The name Dan meant "judged". She claimed that God had judged the matter of her dispute with her sister Leah and had sided with her as proven by the birth of this child. Nowhere are we told that God opened the womb of Bilhah, however. The contrary is true. God would have had to intervene into the normal course of affairs to have prevented this birth, it was just natural. But Rachel was anxious to have God on her side.
The statement made by Rachel on the occasion of the birth of Bilhah's second son is probably more reflective of her true spiritual position at this time: "I have had a great struggle with my sister, and I have won." Her main interest and concern is that in the birth of this second child she has beaten Leah (Don't ask me how the birth of a second adopted child is a victory over the birth of four natural children, that is beyond my comprehension!) Here God is neither mentioned nor praised. At this point in her life Rachel does not strike me as a spiritual woman in humble submission to the will of God.
Next we see Leah slipping far from her grateful acceptance of God's blessings. Rachel, while undoubtedly wrong in proposing that Jacob sleep with Bilhah, at least can be understood to have been reacting to her barrenness; but Leah already has four sons of her own. There was no need to give her maid Zilpah to Jacob for a wife. No need, that is, other than to get one over again on her sister - what a family squabble this is! She who previously had viewed her children as a gift from a gracious and caring God now sees these sons as merely good fortune - "How lucky I am," "How fortunate", and "How happy I am". Relgious devotion has been thrown to the wind. The score is now 6-2 in Rachel's favour but in getting to that score she has forfeited the godliness she once demonstrated. How easy it is for us to give up something of our godliness because of the weakness of our human natures!
Reuben's innocent discovery of an ancient "love-producing potion" provided the occasion of another confrontation and contest between Jacob's two wives.
Mandrakes were berries found in that part of the world which were thought to stimulate the desire for "love-making" and also to enhance the chances of conception. Leah, I guess, was more interested in these berries for the former quality, Rachel for the latter.
We may tend to be amused at the credulity of these women who supposed that such a love potion would be of any benefit. However, before we become too smug in our sophisticated and enlightened day, let us be reminded that millions and billions are spent on cosmetics every year. Every day the perfume commercials tell us that "come hither" perfume (and after-shave!) will do what nothing else can do to enhance our love life. So, you see, things have not really changed so much over the centuries after all.
As a result of their night together, Leah gave birth to a fifth son. Did Leah not misinterpret the meaning of God's gift of that son though? Rather than seeing it as God's grace in response to her pitiable circumstances, Leah chose to see it as evidence of God's approval and blessing of her giving her maidservant to Jacob. In her days, as in our own, true believers are all too quick to credit God with the "successes" of life which are as a result of our sins. We seek to sanctify sins by saying that God was behind it all.
Finally, Leah is reported to give birth to a sixth son and also a daughter. Even then, Leah does not return to that high level of praise which we witnessed earlier in this passage. She has, however, certainly recovered some grasp of the grace of God as seen in the gift of the sixth son. The report of Dinah's birth is intended to introduce her to us in preparation for the tragic events of Genesis 34. Other daughters were born (cf. 46:15), but she is the one who receives the greatest attention.
In verses 22-24 we see God finally granting Rachel the desire of her heart. Prayer does not immediately occur to Rachel as the solution to her stigma of barrenness, but it does seem to be her last resort. How often do we leave prayer until it is a "last-ditch" action!
It must have been nearly seven years after her marriage to Jacob that Rachel finally bore him a son. There may be significance to this delay. Jacob, due to his deception and deceit, was delayed in the process of getting a wife for himself. Perhaps Rachel was delayed in her attempts to have a child for the same reasons. She, too, was willing to employ questionable methods to obtain a son. Only after all these futile efforts were thwarted and shown to be without result does God open Rachel's womb, and that may be in answer to her prayers. Rachel is yet to have another child, but he will come at the cost of her own life (Chapter 35:16ff).
Lets look at some of the implications of the text we have been studying.
The nation Israel, which first read this book from the pen of Moses, learned the wisdom of the Law, which forbade a man to marry a woman and her sister (Leviticus 18:18). Furthermore, this account of the origin of the twelve tribes of Israel must have proved to be most humbling to the nation, for it was hardly a story which inspired national pride. Perhaps at the time of the exodus and during the days of the conquest of the land the people began to think too highly of themselves (Deuteronomy 6:10ff). They might falsely have concluded that God had blessed them because of their greatness and "noble" roots. This story would serve to remind them that their "roots" were no basis for pride whatsoever. They must never trust in their heritage, as the Jews of Jesus' day did, but in the God of their heritage.
We may be inclined to read this account of the struggles between Leah and Rachel and think of it as the "long ago" and the "far away" and thus of little application to us. Such could not be further from the truth. There are differences between the culture of that day and our own, but the only difference between the practice of Jacob in his day and that in our own is that he lived with his four wives simultaneously, while we live with ours consecutively! We do with divorce what Jacob did with polygamy.
A distinct cultural turnover in values has occurred since that day as well. Women of that era tended to determine their value on the basis of how many children they could produce for their husbands. Nowadays, women can tend to consider children to be a burden rather than a blessing. Children are considered a hinderance to fulfillment rather than its means. Consequently, birth control devices are thought to be the key to freedom, and abortion is a necessity for a woman's happiness (I cite the extreme).
What the passage should teach us is that the worship of God is man's highest and most noble end. Neither children nor careers will replace it.
There are also several lessons from this text pertaining to love, sex, marriage and children.
First, sex, love, marriage and family can never be fully satisfying unless enjoyed within the confines of the will of God and the word of God. The family life of Jacob was a disaster. We see that whilst Jacob is outside the land of promise he may belong to God and be assured of His presence, protection, provision and future promises, but he can never be happy there. Love, sex, marriage, and family are all gifts from a good and loving God, but their enjoyment cannot be complete apart from fellowship with Him.
Secondly, whilst love without sex maybe frustrating, sex without love is folly. This is a lesson which we learn from Jacob. Surely those years with Rachel where sex was not possible or permissible were frustrating (Genesis 29:21) but sex without love is just as bad. Jacob engaged in sex with his wife Leah, but there was no fulfillment in it. In fact, it degenerated to mere prostitution where Leah had to purchase Jacob's presence.
Thirdly, neither sex nor children can create love. Leah would be quick to tell us that she learned no amount of sex could ever earn the love of her husband. Even after six boys, she was still unloved. Love cannot be manufactured through sex. There are many marriages in which the couple have very serious marital problems and decide to have children in order to hold the marriage together. This does not work for producing children does not produce love. Children are not the creators of love but rather its consumers.
Fourthly, he or she who places sex on an extremely high level of priority becomes its slave. Jacob's love for Rachel seems to have been largely based on her physical attractiveness. Jacob appears to have been more guided by his hormones than anything else.
Our society informs men and boys that their masculinity is largely indicated by the number of conquests they can make among women. The more they make, the more of a man they are. Jacob did rather well by these standards. He circulated among his four wives frequently enough to produce a growing family, but look at what happened to him in the process. He was not the master of his harem, but he was mastered by his harem. He was pushed from bed to bed by his wives. He was purchased for the night. The passivity of Jacob in these verses is an indictment of his lack of leadership. He was a slave of sex and marriage, not its sovereign.