Posts tagged Rachel
Before we dig into the meat of today’s reading, it’s important to note the birth of the 12th son of Israel, Benjamin, who was born as his mother Rachel was dying. It is understandable, then, that Benjamin, the youngest of two sons born to Rachel (whom Jacob loved more than his other wives) would have special significance to Jacob – especially after the events of chapter 37.
Ah, Genesis, chapter 37 – a real shining moment in the history of Jacob’s family. Here we see that brother-on-brother jealousy (inherited from Jacob, to be sure) and that sisterhood animosity (from Rachel and Leah) rear it’s ugly head as Joseph is plotted against and sold into slavery by his brothers. But here’s the thing; Joseph isn’t entirely blameless in this matter.
At the beginning of chapter 37, we’re told that Joseph is essentially a tattle-tail and a brown-noser when he gives his father “a bad report” about the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah (that is, Dan, Naphtali, Gad and Asher). We’re not told exactly what he said, but it may have been something as simple as “they’re herding the sheep all wrong” or, perhaps, the revealing of something more nefarious. Whatever the case, Joseph created a name for himself as a daddy’s boy snitch among his brothers.
Now, Jacob doesn’t really help his son’s cause when he sends him back out into the field dressed in a colorful and/or ornate coat. I mean, if you think your little brother is spoiled and then he comes driving up in a new Porsche, that pretty much confirms the suspicion!
So Joseph shows up on the scene with his nice new coat and begins spouting his mouth off about these dreams that he’s having – dreams that are symbolic of him reigning over his brothers, and even over his father and mother. This, kids, is a lesson in keeping your trap shut! Sometimes God reveals things to people that he doesn’t necessarily want you to share with others. In this case, Joseph would have done well to keep his dreams to himself. But, again, Joseph is a teenage, spoiled, daddy’s boy who likes to open his mouth to disparage others and to brag about himself. I can relate, because I was just like him when I was that age!
What Joseph was blissfully unaware of (as most teen boys are) is that he was just building a case for his brothers to hate him. In fact, they would come to hate him so much that they would even consider killing him. I think it’s interesting that we see this tone of sibling rivalry and even murder being passed down all the way from Cain and Abel and rearing its ugly head time and time again.
Ultimately, Joseph’s brothers would decide not to kill him, but to sell him to slave traders instead. Obviously not all the brothers were in on this decision, because Reuben, the eldest of the brothers and de facto leader, seems shocked to find that Joseph is no longer in the cistern when he arrives. And so, Joseph is sold and ultimately ends up as a slave to Potiphar, a high ranking official in Egypt.
Again, I think it’s important to point out that the brothers who sold Joseph and told their father he was dead – those same guys would go on to become the patriarchs of the nation of Israel. The family God would choose to bless was a family of murderous, deceiving brothers born to a deceiving father. This is important to remember because, like these men, we are God’s chosen. And like these men, this distinction is not something we earned. Our actions don’t make us children of God. God’s actions do. It was God who chose Jacob (Israel) and his family, and that was the only way that they become “chosen ones.” How great is a God who can look beyond our serious flaws and choose us anyway?
Our Isreal prequel continues today with more of the kind of chaos that has come to define the life of Jacob. When we left off, Jacob’s “other wife,” Leah, had given birth to 4 sons – much to the dismay of her sister Rachel. In today’s reading, Rachel decides to take matters into her own hands (much the way Jacob’s grandmother Sarah had done) and to offer her slave girl to her husband so that she could have offspring in a kind of ancient surrogacy. The experiment is successful and the servant, Bilhah, gives birth to Dan and Naphtali.
Then Leah gets in on the surrogate action and gives her servant to Jacob for the same “service.” The result? Two more sons, Gad and Asher, for a total of 8. Now, even if we ignore for a moment this strange practice of counting the children of servants as your own children, this is a strange story. Here are two sisters who despise each other so much and are so desperate for their husband’s affection that they are willing to do just about anything to “out-do” each other. In fact, it seems as if the child-bearing game had simply become a contest for these two women. At some point, they became focused on the “game” and seem to have forgotten about things like love and affection.
Nowhere is this more evident than in chapter 30, verses 14 and 15 when Rachel essentially trades access to Jacob to Leah in return for some mandrakes, which were believed to increase fertility. In essence, Rachel, who had been infertile, was trading Leah an opportunity for a child now in return for the hope that Rachel would have a child in the future. It was a transaction of selfishness on the part of both women and seems to have very little to do with the kind of matrimonial romance that we tend to think about today. To be fair, however, their husband Jacob and their society at large had similar transactional view of marriage. It just seems that for these women, that marital philosophy was taken to the extreme. Whatever the case, Leah gained access to Jacob’s bed through her mandrake trade with Rachel and eventually had two more sons, Issachar and Zebulun as well as a daughter, Dinah.
It was only after all of these births – 10 sons and at least 1 daughter (but probably many more) – that Rachel was finally able to conceive a child. She gave birth to Joseph, who would go on to play a pivotal role in the formation of the nation of Israel. Joseph was number 11 and Rachel asked the Lord for another son by naming him Joseph, which means “may he add”.
Then, we have more soap opera chaos as Jacob tries and ultimately succeeds in leaving Laban’s house. More deception, more anger, more deal-making. Just remember, God was watching all of this (and sometimes playing an active role) and would still end up choosing this dysfunctional family as his chosen people – a family made up of a man, his 2 wives, 6 sons by one wife, 2 sons by one servant, 2 by another servant and, ultimately, 2 by his other wife.
A pure and perfect God choosing a very imperfect group of people. In this prequel, we see God’s pattern of grace and sovereignty beginning to show itself. In a world of chaos, God chooses us anyway. What a relief to know that even if we’re as messed up as Jacob’s family, God can still choose us and do great things through us!
OK…so this is just how crazy the story of “God’s chosen people” is. For those of us who are somewhat familiar with the story of the people of Israel, consider the back half of the book of Genesis the prequel to that story. This is the story of Jacob (later called Israel) and his descendants…and it’s a crazy one. In just these three chapters, we get a good glimpse of the kind of family chaos that was taking place in this family that would become God’s chosen ones.
First, we have the continuation of Jacob’s deception of his brother Esau (aided by their mother Rebekah). Then we see Esau’s anger and desire to murder his brother. Then another act of deception by Rebekah as she tricks Isaac into blessing Jacob’s departure. Then, not to be outdone, Esau recognizes how much his parents hate the idea of their sons marrying Canaanite women, so he goes and marries two more, in addition to the women he is already married to. Uh, yeah…chaos.
I wish I could say it ended there, but no. The chaos continues as the tables are turned on Jacob and he gets a bit of his own medicine in the form of Laban, his “own flesh and blood.” As a result of Laban’s deception of Jacob, Jacob ends up in 14 years of indentured servant-hood (and an extra wife) just to marry the woman he wants to marry.
And out of all of this chaos, the future heads of the tribes of Israel begin to be born – not to Rachel, the woman Jacob loved, but to Leah, the one Jacob kind of just got stuck with. While Rachel was barren, Leah began having children – Reuben, Simeon, Levi and Judah (some important figures in the upcoming story of Israel).
Sound like a daytime soap-opera? Yeah, it’s that kind of chaos that serves as the prequel to the incredible story of the people of Israel. Stay tuned for more!