Happenings around Antioch

Rachel vs Leah

The green-eyed envy monster entered stage left as Rachel, who desperately wanted children, envied her older sister Leah for having 4 already. She commanded Jacob to give her children or watch her die. Clearly, envy can twist our logic and provoke others to sin. Jacob rightly said that it is God who gives or withholds children, but he reacted to his wife with anger. One helpful hint heard in marriage counseling is that we should respond, not react when triggered. If Jacob had responded instead of reacting to Rachel, what would he have said? Maybe…he would have thought first about what she had said and why she had said it. Maybe…he would have seen Rachel’s accusation as coming from her grief and pain at being childless. Maybe…he would have acknowledged her pain as real and told her he loved her whether she was able to conceive or not. And maybe…he would have prayed with her that God would open her womb. Instead, he got angry and gave her a theology lesson. Theologically correct and relationally all wrong. Can anyone relate? Ouch.

Rachel then takes matters into her own hands, just like Sarah had done years earlier when she was not able to give Abraham a son. Instead of going to the Lord, Rachel goes to her servant. Rachel gives her servant to Jacob, and Bilhah becomes his third wife. As if he didn’t have enough trouble being a good husband to the TWO he already had. Three wives and later four wives were not God’s plan any more than two wives were, but once again we see the grace and mercy of God. He blesses his people, not because of their wrong efforts but in spite of them. God gives Rachel two sons through her servant, and she names the first one Dan, which sounds like “judged” in Hebrew because Rachel believes her barrenness is God’s judgment. The second she names Naphtali which sounds like “wrestling” in Hebrew. And incredibly she gloats after this birth, saying, “I have wrestled with my sister and have prevailed.” Bless Rachel’s heart. Her struggle was not with Leah but with God, and even if it were with Leah, she has not prevailed! Not unless her math is way different than the way we would normally count.

The soap opera plot continues when Leah says in effect, “Oh yeah? Two can play this game,” and she gives her servant to Jacob as his 4th wife! In that culture, if a woman gave a servant as a substitute to her husband and that servant conceives, that child belongs to the woman, not to the substitute or surrogate. So count two more boys for Leah, Gad and Asher, because she considers herself to have good fortune and because she is happy. Or at least, she says that is what other women say of her. Hey, you must be happy! But is she, really?

After a brief commercial break, the soap opera takes a really strange turn, as soaps often do, I am told. Leah’s oldest son Reuben finds mandrakes in the field and brings them to his mom. It was a flower considered to have fertility-inducing qualities. That was and is superstition, not science. So a trade takes place with Rachel giving Leah permission to spend time with her husband in exchange for the mandrakes. Seems like Rachel, the favorite wife, had authority over who got to bunk with Jacob. The irony is that Rachel was hoping the mandrakes would help her conceive and win the birthing war, but they did nothing for her, but the “man-date” Rachel traded to Leah ended up in older sister having baby boy number 5. And on it went. Read Genesis 29-30 for the complete saga.

What do we learn from this story that is filled with strife and envy, sadness and joy? Mainly this: the blessing of God is given by his divine will. Leah did not have what she wanted, the affection of her husband, but was a woman of strong faith who was blessed by God in childbirth. God even exalted her as the mother of the kingly tribe of Judah. Rachel had the affection of her husband but did not have what she wanted, children. Weaker in faith than Leah it seems, Rachel tried to get what she desired by human means, sacrificing the spiritual for the worldly and the temporal. But God intervened for the favorite wife who seemed at first to be haughty and impatient and gave her a son. She then blessed God, perhaps having learned that God’s gifts are not gained by bargaining or scheming, and instead prayed for another. Finally? These two women, with the help of their servants, produced the 12 sons who would become the twelve tribes of Israel.

God can hit a straight lick with a crooked stick. He still does, with you and me!