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Genesis 29:31 – 30:24 > The bridal feud

The story of Jacob’s marriage- and family life has not much to recommend it. It rather sounds like a 21st century television soap opera with two women and their various female servants and a competition among them about who will win Jacob’s favour, and poor Jacob is literally chased from tent to tent and bed to bed.

The question is: what is it that the Holy Spirit is telling us today from this unsavoury history. That is what we need to discover this morning.

Keep in mind that Jacob was living away from the promised land at this stage. Yes, the Lord has promised him His presence and protection and provision, but the Lord was also busy with the process of stripping his life from sinful inclinations dating from his previously sinful life. The results of his previously sinful choices were catching up with him. Things were not running so smoothly. His choice of Rachel based only on her physical beauty and the fact that he wanted her as second wife after Leah, resulted in a chaotic household and frustrating family life. Something done outside the will of the Lord, always leads to tears. In Leviticus 18:18 polygamy is forbidden.

The events are not described in chronological order. One can soon see that too many children are born too quickly to be born one after another. But it is described in this way to show us how much tension and competition there were between Leah and Rachel. It reads the same as watching a tennis match: then we watch one player and then the other. To and fro all the time. And both women so badly wanted to be assured of Jacob’s love. That is how it is when people do not obey the Lord’s plan and purpose with monogamous marriages.

One can see how Leah’s spiritual life waned at the birth of her fifth child. The first four children’s names all had a reference in some way to the Lord God. But after that, it declined. Leah was in a great predicament. Right from the start. Her husband did not really want her. When the Lord saw that, He particularly opened her womb and Reuben was born. His name means “see, a son!” because she was sure that the Lord saw her suffering, and when Reuben was born, perhaps Jacob would come to love her. At least Jacob had a son who could be his heir. But Jacob was so smitten with Rachel that he was hardly aware of Leah’s existence. But the Lord made Rachel barren. It was exactly because of her barrenness that Jacob was driven to Leah’s tent in the hope that she would give him descendants.

But Leah’s hope for the love of her husband was unfulfilled. When Simeon was born, she said: “Because the Lord heard that I am not loved, He gave me this one too”. She could see no change in Jacob, but she was intensely aware of the LORD’S love and that He even knew the thoughts of her heart. Simeon means “He hears” – a true witness of Leah’s awareness of God’s grace.

With the birth of Leah’s third son, Levi, her hope flared up again. She says: “NOW at last, my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons”. She hoped that the NUMBER of sons would impress Jacob and that he would be duty-bound to become attached to her. She had worth, for look: three sons!

However, three sons had very little influence on Jacob’s feelings.

But, when the fourth son – Judah – was born, Leah was so filled with joy and praise towards the Lord, she said: “This time I will praise the Lord”. Judah’s name means “praise the Lord”. Yes, now Leah was sure that Jacob’s heart would change. She so longed for the love that she so desperately needed. Although she knew that to be loved and guided by the Lord God was of greater value than the love of a man. She was content with the Lord’s love. Praise filled her heart. With four sons by her side it was easy to praise the Lord.

However, Rachel was not so full of praises. She was consumed with envy when she looked at Leah’s children. She said to Jacob: “Give me children, or I shall die!” Upon which Jacob reacted with anger: “Am I in the place of God, who has kept you from having children?”

Neither Rachel nor Jacob’s behaviour was particularly Spirit-filled and devout. Rachel did not accept that her barrenness was from the Lord’s hand. She actually did not acknowledge the sovereignty of God. And her jealousy blinded her spiritual eyes. Everything was Jacob’s fault! And although Jacob acknowledged the hand of the Lord, his male ego was offended and he yelled at Rachel. So different to his father Isaac, who, when Rebekah was barren, prayed for her. The result was that Rachel felt insecure, and a fearful panic took hold of her: She simply MUST have children!

It is this fear that drove Rachel to make plans. She gave her maidservant Bilhah to Jacob with the hope that she would bear children for her. In the culture of the day a woman could adopt the child borne by her maidservant. We saw it in Genesis 16 where Sarah and Abraham and Hagar followed the same route. Although at that stage Abraham had only one wife and no children. Jacob and Rachel’s situation was quite different. And on top of that, Rachel was driven by sheer jealousy and pride.

Then Bilhah gave birth to Dan. Dan means “vindicated”. Rachel reckoned that the Lord’s hand was in this matter and that His judgment was correct in the competition between her and Leah and that the Lord chose her (Rachel’s) side. Rachel was angry, but very anxious to keep the Lord in the picture and on her side. Her words at the birth of Bilhah’s second son were significant of what really was in her heart: “With mighty wrestlings I have wrestled with my sister, and have prevailed”, so she called him “Naphtali”, which means “my struggle”. It is not her relationship with the Lord which was evident, but the wrestling match with her sister, which was truly only about herself. She wanted to be the winner, come what may! How she could have imagined that two adopted sons could triumph over Leah’s four true sons, nobody knows. But Rachel is convinced: She has prevailed! Of a humble devout woman who wants to be submissive to the Lord’s Word, there is no sign.

Leah’s relationship with the Lord also waned. After the birth of Rachel’s two adopted sons, her life of joy in the Lord’s grace was forgotten. Suddenly the competition-spirit took hold of her as well. She already had four sons. There was absolutely no need for her to give her maid – Zilpah – to Jacob to bear children for her to adopt. The only reason for this was: the two sisters were in a head to head confrontation. “If Rachel can use her maidservant, then so can I”.

When Leah realized that she could not become pregnant again, there went Zilpah to Jacob’s tent. And Zilpah bore a son for Jacob. And at his birth, Leah said: “What good fortune!” So she named him Gad – which means “good fortune”. And when Zilpah brouht a second son into the world, Leah called the child “Asher” which means “happy”, and she said: “How happy I am! The women will call me happy.”

Leah’s words betrayed her. The Lord God was completely forgotten. In the heat of the struggle, the right or wrong of their behaviour did not matter to these two sisters. The Word of God was something that was only fleetingly glanced at before bed time. If at all. To Leah it was only about winning! She was now four points ahead! Little knowing that she has sacrificed her devotion to the Lord. It was all a matter of: What are the other women going to say? And not: What does the Word of God instruct me!

On reading this tragic history, one would wish that this was the end. But unfortunately it is not.

One day, while walking in the field, Reuben innocently discovered a kind of berry of which it was believed in those days, that one could brew a kind of magic love-potion that stimulates sexual desires and particularly increase fertility. It is translated “mandrakes”.

Reuben took it to his mother, but when Rachel heard about this, she quickly decided to get hold of some. Because she still desired to have a child herself. Suddenly there was something that could help her to become pregnant.

But Leah refused: “Wasn’t it enough that you took away my husband? Will you take my son’s mandrakes too?”

But Rachel replied: “If you give me those mandrakes, Jacob can sleep with you tonight”. Leah accepted the offer, because to have Jacob was always her first choice. So Rachel had the mandrakes and Leah had her husband!

What a tragic state of affairs in Jacob’s marriage(s). He had failed so completely that his wife had to employ a type of prostitution to buy his affection. And Rachel was so far removed from the grace of God that she placed her confidence on some kind of magic potion, if only she could become pregnant. But seeking the Lord for it? Never!

But the Lord thought of Leah with pity, and she became pregnant with another son – the fifth. Take note: The LORD thought of Leah. Not: the mandrakes worked so well!

It seems as if Leah misunderstood the Lord about the gift of that boy. The Lord had pity on her hopeless situation, but she interpreted it as if God approved the fact that she had given her maid – Zilpah – to Jacob. Even today, the Lord always gets the credit for the success of our sins. We are so keen to glorify our sins by thinking that the Lord is behind it.

The fifth son’s name was Issachar, which means “reward”.

After that Leah had another son and a daughter.

The sixth son was Zebulon, meaning “honour”. Because Leah was saying: “This time my husband will treat me with honour, because I have borne him six sons”. Meaning: Perhaps he will now be more often in my tent rather than in Rachel’s.

What a tragic life of yearning for love and recognition.

Leah’s daughter was called Dinah. Later in Genesis more about her.

And then Rachel’s great day dawns! When all her own schemes and plans and struggles and efforts and means were exhausted, then the Lord opened her womb. And He gave her the desire of her heart. Even although she was spiritually so anaemic and faithless. That is how infinite and inexplicable the Lord’s compassion is.

Rachel bore a son for Jacob (after she had been married to Jacob for approximately 7 years) and called him Joseph. His name means something like “may He add”. Rachel exclaimed: “May the Lord add to me another son!” Therefore the name Joseph. This prayer would be fulfilled many years later with the birth of Benjamin – during which Rachel would die.

1 In this tragic passage, the origin of the 12 tribes of Israel is described. A very humiliating beginning. Not something to be proud of. That is how the Lord’s OT-church began. So that MAN could have nothing to boast about. Only the Lord. The mere fact that the nation Israel began like this and that the nation remained preserved to the end for the Lord Jesus to come forth from them, is nothing less than a divine miracle. EVERYTHING is due to the LORD’S faithfulness to His covenant promises and NOTHING to man!

2 In those ancient days women measured their own worth by the number of children they could give their husband. Leah and Rachel were wrong to make the good gift of children the absolute basis of their happiness and fulfillment. But it did not work out.

Today it is not necessarily children, but women sometimes think that something like a successful career or whatever, is the highest source of happiness and fulfillment. Or money or whatever it may be.

Earlier in her life Leah, with the birth of Judah, was the closest to the truth when she referred to the Lord and His acceptance of her as her highest worth and fulfillment. Not her child or husband, but the living God Himself. A Spirit-filled life is man’s highest calling. Not children or money or a career can replace it. Scripture teaches that women who teach their children to become and be devoted children of the Lord, have discovered their highest calling (1 Tim 2:15).

3 Love, relationships, sex, marriage and family can NEVER bring fulfillment and happiness unless it takes place within the enclosure of the will and Word of God.

Jacob’s family life was a disaster. Because he replaced God’s moral standard with his own insight of how things should work. And the Lord took him on a hard road to free him from this foolishness and to open his eyes for Divine Truth.

And the will of God for us today is crystal clear in His Word for anyone who is humble enough to bend the knee to it.

Here it is:
Pre-marital and extra-marital sexual relationships is absolutely OUT, and out of the question! Transgress and sooner or later you will have to bear the consequences. The Bible places this great gift of the Lord inside the contours of the lawful marriage between one man and one woman. Not more than ONE man or woman. Only ONE. And only a marriage. And also not a man in a woman’s body or a woman in man’s body. Only a man and a woman as the Lord decided to create you. In addition: To have children, does not produce love. Children are not the creators of love. They are the consumers of love. Romantic erotic love is also not a love that is able to carry a marriage for 30, 40 or 50 years. Romantic love comes quickly and it disappears just as quickly. Jacob’s feeling for Rachel was mainly built on desire and her physical beauty.

May the Lord help us to find our greatest love and fulfillment in the One whom we cannot see, but Who we can clearly hear – in His Word.

Translated by Marthie Wilson
Main source: Bob Deffinbaugh

Category Genesis Series

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