At this point in Genesis, Jacob is living with Laban, and is married to both Leah and Rachel. Genesis 30:1-24 is an account of the domestic, marital life as told from the perspective of the sisters. It is one filled with much brokenness and pain, as with all life after Genesis 3. What can we learn from this passage?
(A) In our envy we forget who God is in faithlessness (Gen 30:1-2).
Verse 1 begins with Rachel envying her sister who had four sons by now, while she had none. Note that Rachel was envious but not jealous. What is the difference? To envy, is to desire something the other person has. Jealousy, however, arises when one's ownership of the object or person is challenged. With this in mind, the Bible can say that God is a jealous God, because as Creator, He does have ownership over all creation and mankind. We too, act like Rachel and Facebook does add to our woes. Have you ever caught yourself checking your news feed, and wondering why all your friends' lives are more exciting, more interesting than yours? That, is being like Rachel.
Not only was Rachel envious, she also appears to overreact to her barrenness. She wanted children so much, that she wanted to die if she could not have them (Gen 30:1b). Why did this mean so much to her? Remember that in ancient cultures, a barren woman was viewed as cursed. What makes it even more of an over-reaction, is the fact that Genesis 29 exists. Rachel was not a forgotten, unloved wife. Jacob really loved her and was in fact, besotted with her, willing to work 14 years in exchange for her. But in Gen 30, Rachel has forgotten all these and saw only her present circumstance.
Upon hearing this, Jacob’s “anger was kindled” against her (Gen 30:2). Between verses 1 and 2, we are reminded of the curse in Gen 3. Once again, we see the problem of relational conflict in a post-fall world. The romance of chapter 29, is now met with marital strife in chapter 30. Jacob replies with a question, and reminds her that ultimately he has no control over her childbearing. The expectation that Rachel has laid on Jacob can only be met in God. The Bible calls this idolatry, where the hopes and expectations meant for God are now transferred from the Creator to a created creature. Augustine calls this "disordered love", and this is sin. Idolatry in a relationship will inevitably destroy a relationship. Genesis 30 reminds us that in this world tainted by sin, you can spend your whole life waiting for the one, but the relationship will still be messy, painful and broken.
From Genesis 30 (and some of the accounts that we've read so far), does the Bible advocate or denounce polygamy? How should we respond to such charges and arguments against the Bible and Christianity? In every instance in Genesis, polygamy does not work out and it is clearly not what God intended for it to be. There is no stability in the family unit, there is no genuine love, and the possessive spirit of individuals involved in the relationship keeps coming up. Gen 2 states that a man will leave his father’s house and cleave to his wife. One and only one woman. Man and woman were not designed to give their hearts to more than one person
Yet, Genesis 30 is also an argument against monogamy. Marriage is not the solution to life's problems! Even in monogamy, it is messy and tainted by sin. We always fall into the temptation where we turn love into salvation. Ultimately, we are not designed to give our hearts to any one apart from God!
In just these few verses, we are reminded of our first love -- God. To be a Christian is not primarily about doing the right things, being good, or hanging out with the right people. It is ultimately about keeping the main things the main things and loving your first love. Do you protect your alone time with God? If you’ve never rejected people and chose to spend time with God, maybe your loves are disordered? Do you guard your heart? Where is your heart? Where, or who, is your first love?
(B) In our ungodliness, we sin against one another and abuse one another out of personal agenda (Gen 30:3-23).
Verses 3 to 24 records for us a kind of proxy war of birth conflicts between Leah and Rachel. These women brought their maidservants into the picture. The table below records for us the children that were born:
|5|| (of Bilhah)
|6|| (of Bilhah)
| Dinah (daughter)
"God is my judge"
"may he add" and sounds like Hebrew for "taken away"
|12|| Benjamin (born later in Gen 35:16-18)
"son of the right hand"
Throughout verses 3 to 13, however, God is missing. Though mentioned in the various verses, the form “God” and not “the Lord” is used. He is omitted from the narrative and when He appears, He appears as Elohim, the Creator who is distant. Here, we realise that an ungodly life may not be blatantly and outrightly rejecting the existence of God. An ungodly life is basically living a life without God’s priorities. This describes Rachel and Leah’s lives. Like them, we may utter praise to God, but we merely see Him as a means to our own ends.
Gen 30:14-17 record an interaction between the sisters, Leah's son Reuben and some mandrakes. Rachel requests some of Reuben's mandrakes, much to Leah's irritation and anger. The sisters were not being petty over some vegetation. The mandrake was a symbol of fertility (Song 7:3), and the real issues are much, much deeper. From the verses we see:
- Leah's loneliness -- She looks at her sister with sheer hatred and loathing, as one who has taken her husband and now, something her son has (or her fertility).
- Rachel's view of Jacob, as something that can be exchanged in a round of power play (c.f. Gen 30:15-16).
- Leah views Jacob as a thing that can be hired (Gen 30:16)
- Issachar, Leah’s son, is viewed as her wage because she gave her servant to her husband (Gen 30:18)
These verses sound strange to us, and rightly so. This language of trade and economics highlights the distorting and painful effects of sin in relationships. People end up in a confusing web of relationships that crush each other. Marriage and family ties were not originally meant to be this way, but the Bible paints a realistic picture of the effects of sin.
(C) In our humble need, the LORD loves to draw near to us and have relationship with us (Gen 30:22-24).
How else does God appear in the narrative? God appears as someone that these women are appealing to for help against the other. Both women think that God is on their side, and therefore against the other person. Is that really so? Sin warps our view of life and others, and too, like Leah and Rachel, are tempted to bring God into the picture, to serve our own selfish, sinful agendas. Dear friends, we don't bring the Creator God into our petty affairs of the created order, as if He can be manipulated to serve our own ends. The question is not is He on my side or your side, but rather, are we on His side?
But this passage ends with hope. Rachel finally gets a son, Joseph, and she now uses the personal name of God (Gen 30:24). Joseph is the only son borne to her at this time after a lifetime of barrenness. He clearly accomplishes His plans according to His timing. What do you think has happened in Rachel’s heart? By the time Joseph came along, she has endured a lot. Leah has had many many children, but she had none till now and at her lowest, most vulnerable state, God gave her Joseph. The Bible's God is one who is drawn towards those who cannot do anything for themselves.This is a God of grace.
This description of God runs against everything we know in Singapore. Our culture tells us to perform and earn our way through. And every time we read these passages of God's goodness to those who are poor, we struggle to really understand, because we don’t feel that we are really poor. Like Adam and Eve, we are still trying to cover ourselves with our own fig leaves. But the Bible tells us something else -- that in reality, we are all spiritually bankrupt. Do you see yourself in Genesis 30? Do the struggles of Leah and Rachel reflect the struggles of your life, struggles of envy and ungodliness? Are you tired of your own sin, the sins of others, and the complicated mess that life becomes because of sin?
Come before Him and confess who you truly are before God. That is the only requirement that He has – for us to admit our own inadequacies and failures. And when we see that, we can truly sing,
"Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to the cross I cling;
Naked come to thee for dress;
Helpless, look to thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Savior, or I die"