Rachel and Leah (4-4-2020)
The testimony of Rachel and Leah plays like a reality television show or a soap opera. The drama in this text would be entertaining if it were not so sad. Leah gets stuck with a guy who did not want her. The text says Leah had weak eyes, which could be a nice way of saying she was not pretty, especially compared to Rachel who is described as being “beautiful in form and appearance.” Leah’s father tricks Jacob into consummating a marriage with Leah. How could this be? Jacob more than likely was drunk from celebrating and/or the bridal tent was dark. Jacob didn’t notice until the morning. This has to be so deflating for Leah. The only way her father can get her married off was to trick a man into it.
Jacob goes to Laban and asks for Rachel’s hand again and works for seven more years to gain her as his bride. The text tells us that Jacob loved Rachel. Now Jacob has two wives, and he has broken the command of God in Genesis 2:24 to have only one wife. Understand that whenever we do not follow the commands of God, things work our extremely poorly.
Leah is married to a man who does not love her. She knows that Jacob has already worked seven years for Rachel and is in the process of working another seven years for Rachel. This is a great display of love. The Lord sees this reproach of Jacob for his wife, and the Lord opens her womb. This is a constant theme in this text; it is the Lord who brings about life—He is the author of life. In this time and culture, to be a barren wife was to be a useless wife; you did not bring value to the household (this is a statement of fact of the culture and not a view of the value God places on women, who are created in His image).
Leah believes she has no value because she is hated and childless. God looks down and gives her four sons. Notice the caption of each son: Rueben (the Lord has looked on my affliction and now my husband will love me); Simeon (because the Lord has heard I am hated, He has given me this son); Levi (now my husband will be attached to me that I have born him three sons); and Judah (this time I will praise the Lord). Leah is finding her value, not in who she is according to her relationship with God, but who she is based her own means or how her husband values her. Because of this she is jealous, envious, and bitter. She is desperate for the attention of her husband. Is this desire for love and acceptance by her spouse a bad thing? No, it is not; but in this case, it has become an idol in her heart. Leah cherishes this acceptance above all things—even her relationship with God. She places the value of culture and her husband above God.
Rachel should be happy in that she has the love of her husband. He is showing his love for her in an amazing way in that he is working for 14 years so she can be his bride. Notice in verse 1 of chapter 30, it states that when Leah had children and Rachel was barren, she envied Leah. Rachel proceeds to place her barrenness on Jacob’s shoulders. In his anger, Jacob makes a great statement: “Am I in the place of God who has withheld the fruit of the womb?” Jacob had it right. God is sovereign over the womb and the granting of life. We have no right to choose who lives or dies. Abortion is an affront to this. God has specifically granted life; He has not given us authority to take the life of a baby in Scripture. God condemns the harming of children, the sacrificing of children, and anything that would lead a child astray.
Rachel turns to her own means to accomplish what God has withheld from her. This is a dangerous way to do things; whenever we try to go around God, things never work out well. This text is full of examples of people doing what they want and making sinful choices for which they will give an account. We also see in this text that God is clearly working His plan of redemption despite all the selfishness, pride, envy, and strife.
When a servant is given to a spouse in this culture, she does not become a real wife, so the servant’s baby is actually claimed by Rachel. If the surrogate has the baby while in the lap of the wife, then it is a symbol for the baby coming from the womb of the true wife. Notice the telling words of Rachel after the second son is born to her servant: “With mighty wrestling, I have wrestled with my sister.”
Now the competition ensues, because Leah doesn’t find value in God and her relationship but rather in being better than her sister—by providing a son—this would give her value to her husband. She has to one-up her sister. Leah then proceeds to do the same thing Rachel did, and that was to give her servant to her husband to gain a child.
Do you see what jealousy is doing to these two women? They are jealous of each other because rather than compare themselves to God’s standard, they compare themselves to one another. They cannot let the other one have what they don’t have; they are selfish. All through this competition is selfishness. Notice that Rachel had Jacob’s love, but she thought little of it—so much so that she would give him up so that she could have some mandrakes (flowers). In ancient times, mandrakes had been believed to help fertility.
These women were desperate; they wanted something no man could do for them. Throughout the text, we see God actively working to fulfill His promise. God worked through the sinful, selfish actions of the women to fulfill His plan of blessing the nations. Chapter 30 continually tells us that it is God who opens the wombs of these women so that they may bear children. He is also the One who prevents them from bearing children. Even in the midst of the blessing of breathing life into a dead womb, these women keep focused on each other. Almost all the names given to the sons born are names showing that these women where not focused on the giver of life but on how they perceived themselves in order to relate to the culture.
In summary, we see the sisters/wives competing in using their maids as surrogates, using child bearing as proof of God’s favor, bartering for time with the husband, accusing the other of stealing the husband’s favor, in the naming of the children, in praying to the Lord for children—all for selfish gain. This sinful disobedience of God’s clear command of one man and one woman shows us what happens. Jacob is not the only one to blame. Laban, Rachel, and Leah are also to blame for the sin here. Though bigamy and polygamy were accepted culturally, we can see that this disobedience to God’s decree brought about a tough situation.
There are several things we can learn from these women:
- Find your value in God. Who you are in Christ is all that matters. Both Rachel and Leah were looking to Jacob to supply emotional and spiritual support. Humans are sinful, and we fail much of the time. When we place our hope in others rather than in God, we are creating idols. Idols are anything we place above God. Each character had things they placed over knowing and trusting in God. They only relied on God to fulfill their own goals but didn’t look to glorify Him.
In what do you find your value? Who do you let define you? In what do you find your joy, strength, and purpose? In all these things, God should be our true answer! Only God sustains, completes, satisfies, and is worthy of our lives.
- Selfishness, envy, and jealousy destroy lives. Sin never builds up but instead breaks down. You can see the bitterness in each of these women—how they let sin harden their hearts. These were two sisters who should have loved each other, but they didn’t. Instead, they tried to outdo each other. These sins crowded out and usurped the good things in their life.
In what ways are you letting your flesh lead your thoughts or actions? In what ways are you giving into sin lately? See that all sin dishonors God. He who thinks lightly of sin thinks lightly of a Savior!
- Not obeying and following God’s plan never works out well. Laban’s deception (sin) leads to Jacob’s choosing to be disobedient to God’s design for marriage, which is to be a one flesh union. Sin always compounds on itself and harms those around us.
Praise God that despite our sin He is at work for eternal purposes! We see the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham beginning to be fulfilled through Jacob. God used these two women who had 12 sons combined to start bringing about a people that would be more numerous than the sand on the seashore or the stars in the heavens. God is laying the foundation for His redemptive plan as He paves a lineage for the promised redeemer, Jesus Christ! This is good news to all of us who claim Christ as Lord. We praise God for his enduring work through many generations of sinful, disobedient people in order to bring forth Christ in whom “We have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (Ephesians 1:7).
By His grace and for His glory,
Pastor Joshua Kirstine
*Special thanks to J. Taylor for his help with this week’s devotional.