I’m not the best conversationalist. Sure, I do okay, but there are times when the words that come out of my mouth are downright embarrassing. The absolute worst is when I am mid-conversation and I can feel it starting to happen. All of a sudden I don’t know what else to say, yet my lips keep moving. I start to stutter, to ramble, to say weird things, to spiral out of control. One could argue that I perceive such conversations as worse than they actually are, but nonetheless, that’s how it feels. And it’s awful.
I wonder if anyone in Jacob’s growing family felt this way years and years ago when the events in this chapter took place. I know I would have. Leah has had four boys, which is like hitting the jackpot in those days, and Rachel is jealous. She can’t force her womb to conceive, so she settles for the next best thing (?) and tells Jacob to sleep with her servant Bilhah, so that then at least Rachel can lay some claim to the children that are born. This works (again, ?) and Rachel is elated when Bilhah has two sons. Rachel even declares herself the winner of the struggle between her and Leah (verse 8) and apparently Leah agrees because she decides to do the same thing with her servant Zilpah. Zilpah also has two sons, and the sisters’ struggle continues, arguments erupting over who gets to have what and sleep with who (verse 15). Leah has two more sons and a daughter. Finally Rachel has a son. She rejoices and humbly hopes for another one.
Meanwhile Jacob is trying to wrestle himself and his family out from under Laban’s thumb. He only came here to find one wife, but now he has four wives, twelve children, and a desire to live his own life. Laban is very persuasive, however (must have come in handy with the wife swap shenanigans from earlier), and convinces Jacob to stay in exchange for naming his own wages. Jacob wants sheep, and it is sheep he gets. He is promised the spotted and speckled flocks, and Jacob attempts to manipulate the animals’ mating cycles in order to ensure that the best sheep and goats give birth to spotted and speckled young. Essentially, he sticks some peeled branches in the water the animals drink and later allows them to mate near the branches. Somehow, this works (???) and Jacob’s streaked and speckled and spotted flocks flourish. And so does Jacob, who now has almost enough riches to make the stress and quarreling he no doubt experiences at home all worth it.
The Treasures Within:
If there is any home I would NOT have liked to be invited over for dinner, it would be the home of Jacob and Leah and Rachel and Bilhah and Zilpah. I mean, there is so much tension and jealousy and anger and resentment and competition in this family. Still, it’s really no surprise that a man who decided to marry four women ended up with a troubled household.
What is surprising is the reasoning everyone keeps giving for what took place. In verse 6, after Rachel gives Bilhah to Jacob and claims the son that is born as a proxy child, she decides that this is proof that God is finally blessing her. In verse 18, after Leah has her fifth son, not counting the two her maid Zilpah gave birth to, she announces that God was rewarding her for letting her husband sleep with another woman! In verse 24, when she finally has a son, Rachel believes that God has finally decided to take away her disgrace.
This would all sound a lot like conservative Christian Republicans, only claiming that God’s will is at work when things are working out to their liking, but Rachel and Leah were right. God was the one who chose when and to whom sons would be born. He allowed Bilhah and Zilpah to get pregnant. He even let Jacob’s ‘get rich quick’ scheme work! But why? These people were spiraling out of control. Their roller-coaster ride of ups and downs, fights and promises, scheming and deceiving brought out the worst in them. Jacob and Rachel and Leah seem almost insane in this chapter and at the very least miserable. And it seems as if God was just feeding the frenzy by giving people babies and sheep! Why?
I don’t know why. And maybe we aren’t supposed to know why because it isn’t the point. Whereas I would have run for the hills upon seeing the crazy these people were capable of, God stayed. He listened to the woes and wails of Rachel and Leah and Jacob. He worked with them. Did they change? Did Leah stop picking fights with Rachel? Did Rachel stop being jealous and resentful? Did Jacob start trusting God to supply His needs? Verse 24 is a little glimpse into the effect all of this had on Rachel – she seems different when she says “May the Lord add to me another son”. Humility, faith, and trust in God do not coexist with anger and jealousy. Could Rachel have changed? We don’t really know. All we’re told is that God worked on her and her twisted family. He was there. And that’s what matters.
God’s Message To Us:
“I do not leave you at your lowest point.” I think we have preconceived notions about what God definitely will or will not do in certain situations. If this happens, then God wasn’t at work or if that happens, then it was just chance, not God. We assume that there’s a threshold for what God will deal with and once it’s crossed then He’s out. That doesn’t seem to be the case. Even when it seems like He has bailed, He hasn’t. Even when it seems like He has left you to endlessly spiral downwards, with no one to pull you out, He has his eye on you. He’s making His way to you. He’s trying to save you. He’s there.
What do you think? What do you think of God’s actions toward Jacob & co. in this chapter? Why do you think He did what He did? What do you think God’s message was to you in this chapter?