Joseph’s brothers, ten of the other twelve “tribes” of Israel hated him so much that they conspired together to kill him. Not to beat him or to bully their brother, but to commit murder. It was only Judah’s suggestion, self-motivated though it was, to sell him that spared Joseph’s life. After they sold him to the Ismaelites, the brothers decided the best way to handle this was not to tell their father the truth. Better for him to think he is dead than that Joseph was alive but sold into slavery. Let’s tell him that beasts devoured him, they say, and all that was left was this bloody coat. Well, that was a shred of the truth, but the only beasts that devoured Joseph were his brothers. We find another irony in their deception of their father that depended on goats’ blood. Years earlier, Jacob’s deception of his father Isaac depended on his brother’s cloak and two goat skins.
The final callousness of the brothers is breath-taking. When they arrived back in Hebron, they showed the bloody coat Jacob had given to his beloved son and say to him, “This we have found; please identify whether it is your son’s robe or not.” They cannot even conceal their hatred for Joseph in the face of their father’s grief. They don’t call him “our brother,” but “your son.” They don’t console their father for his loss, but simply ask him to identify the evidence of it. Do you, umm, recognize this coat?
Jacob’s grief was profound. He identified the robe and said, “Joseph is without doubt torn to pieces.” He tore his garments, put on sackcloth, and mourned for many days. The whole family tried to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted, saying, “No, I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning.” Translation? Jacob had nothing to live for and indeed did not want to live. But his severe depression was based on a lie told to him by his sons. They lived with him for 20 years and let him continue in that false belief that his son was devoured by wild animals, and that he would never see him again until death. This lie shaped Jacob’s life, as any lie we believe will shape our life as well.
How do we make sure we are not living as a slave to a lie that someone told us, even a parent or a pastor or a teacher or a friend? Hold it up to what the Word says. If you grew up hearing that God only loves you if you dress a certain way or if you work really hard to do everything right and you are always happy and never struggle, that’s a lie that will shape your life, or “mis-shape it.” Hold it up to the truth of what the Bible really says. If on the other hand you grew up hearing the Word from your parents and the church and now you hear from others that it really doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you are true to yourself and your feelings, that also is a lie that will mis-shape your life. Hold it up to the truth of what the Bible really says. Jesus said it like this: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” You will be “put back into shape.”
The truth would have set Jacob free, but those who knew the truth withheld it from him. We must not do that with our children or our parents or our brothers and sisters in Christ. Or with our friends who are lost.
Joseph is a favorite biblical character for a lot of people. And he was clearly Moses’ favorite, if the amount of ink he got is any indication. Moses wrote more about Joseph than he did about Abraham, the father of faith and the friend of God! Or Jacob, the man who wrestled with God and was named Israel, the “prince of God.” Why is Joseph such an important figure? I like what David Guzik wrote about the godly men in Genesis:
Enoch shows the walk of faith. Noah shows the perseverance of faith. Abraham shows the obedience of faith. Isaac shows the power of faith. Jacob shows the discipline of faith. Joseph shows the triumph of faith.
Joseph will have to overcome many trials and much suffering, but he triumphs because God’s hand is on him, and his faith is in God. This story has been called a masterful narrative and volumes of books have been written about it. Even Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice got excited about the story and wrote a musical for a school chorus, suggested by friends, in 1968. Joseph and his Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat later became a smash hit in London and then around the world. It was one of my favorite shows I performed in with the Gallery Players in the 80’s.
Typology refers to historical people, places, even objects in the Old Testament which point us to the life and work of Jesus Christ in the New Testament. Noah’s ark was a type of Christ because all who went into it were saved. Joseph is a type of Christ as well. The world will come to him during the famine to be saved. But more than that, James Boice wrote, “He was loved and hated, favored and abused, tempted and trusted, exalted and abased. Yet at no point in the one-hundred-and-ten-year life of Joseph did he ever seem to get his eyes off God or cease to trust him. Adversity did not harden his character. Prosperity did not ruin him. He was the same in private as in public. He was a truly great man.” Joseph was certainly not perfect, but his life is a powerful picture that points to the sacrifice and suffering and ultimate triumph of the one who was and is perfect, Jesus Christ.
Others have pointed out that the genealogy of Christ includes a Joseph. The earthly father of Jesus was Joseph, and his father was Jacob! Roland Warren wrote about the two Josephs in Jesus’ life, one who was present at his birth, and the other who was present at his death. Both of the Josephs adopted one who was considered illegitimate. Joseph of Nazareth adopted Mary’s son as his own and raised him to be a carpenter. And Joseph of Arimathea took Jesus’ body down from the cross. In that culture, if someone was crucified and no one claimed his body, it was as if that person was illegitimate from birth.
Joseph the dreamer may not be written about much in the Bible after Genesis. But he and his namesakes later, three Josephs, each played very important roles in the story of redemptive history.
On a family vacation when our daughter Hannah was 18 months old or so, she wandered off down the beach one day. I had heard horror stories about children wandering off like that and being abducted or walking into the water and being pulled under by the current. We knew about a family who arrived at the beach for their vacation. The beach house had an in-ground pool and as they were unpacking the car, their toddler found it, fell in and drowned. Their car engine was still warm and they were dealing with the tragic loss of a child. So, with that weighing on our minds, Cindy and I did not look at each other and say, “Aw, she’ll come back. Let’s give her 15 minutes and see what happens.” I didn’t say, “Look, I will go looking for Hannah in a minute, but I am right at the good part of this book I am reading, and I can’t put it down.” Nor did I say, “Hey, you go look for her if you want, but I am tired. I have worked hard and have looked forward to this vacation for months; the last thing I want to do is to go sprinting down the beach when the waves are splashing, the gentle breezes are blowing, and the beach chair is calling.” No, I didn’t say any of that. In fact we didn’t speak at all; we looked at each other like people who have lived and loved together for a long time and took off in opposite directions down the beach.
As I was walking and half-running, I did not stop to look at shells. I don’t remember the occasion, since it was more than 30 years ago now, but I am quite certain that had I even seen a perfect shark’s tooth lying in full view, I would not have taken the second away from my search to pick it up. I also did not look out at the porpoises playing in the water or the college kids playing Frisbee or volleyball on the beach. As much as I love to just walk lazily down the beach and feel the sand in my toes, I did not think about that at all. I had one thing on my mind. I was consumed by it. My daughter was gone, and I had to find her.
The single-mindedness of my search was in direct proportion to the value I placed in that for which I was searching. That’s why I really don’t believe that anyone who is half-heartedly “seeking” is going to find anything. The one who has been set upon a quest to find the truth will be focused, intentional, and doggedly determined to find it. He will not be side-tracked, and he will not give up until his journey leads to a relationship with the Lord. God said it himself: “And you will seek me and find me, when you search for me with all your heart.”
When our daughter wandered off down the beach, she never found what she was looking for. She didn’t even know what it was. Hannah also had no idea about the dangers all around her as she wandered aimlessly. She was found and brought back home by parents who loved her and went looking for her. If you are seeking truth with all your heart, you will find it. Rather, he will find you. Jesus Christ said, I have “come to seek and to save that which was lost.”
When it comes right down to it, he is the seeker. We are the lost.
I remember it well, one day not long after I was baptized as a child. My mom said after one of my outbursts, “For somebody who just became a Christian, you sure are acting like the devil!” She was right, and really, I don’t think I was a Christian then, because baptism does not a believer make. Jacob had been changed by God, though. He was humbled with a limp, called to a different way of living, and given a new name, “Israel,” after the wrestling match at Peniel. But the reality of his covenant position was clouded by his actions. Israel was living a lot like old Jacob. I can relate.
Jacob should have gone straight back to Bethel as soon as he left Esau, but he took a disastrous detour that resulted in a daughter defiled and a murderous response by Simeon and Levi. God tells Jacob to go to Bethel, and now he obeys. Notice the actions he took for himself and his whole household before they left Shechem. He essentially said to them, “We will leave Shechem, and we will bury Paddan-aram before we go.” He tells his family to put away their foreign gods, purify themselves, and put on new clothes. We are going to Bethel, the place where God met with me and has never left me since then. And we will bury Paddan-aram and everything associated with it first, right down to the garments we wear from there. The whole tribe responds, as people bring their foreign gods and their earrings to him, and Jacob buries them under a terebinth tree outside of Shechem. Was Joshua thinking about this scene when he gathered all of Israel in Shechem years later and says to them, “Put away your foreign gods that are among you and incline your heart to the Lord, the God of Israel”? And the people said to Joshua, “The Lord our God we will serve, and his voice we will obey.” Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, wrote down the laws and statues for them, “And he took a large stone and set it up there under the terebinth that was by the sanctuary of the Lord.”
The Lord God calls us forward as his children, and he walks with us, but he also tells us to leave behind everything that has kept us from fully obeying him and his word. And we do this together, as a community, like Jacob and Joshua did with the people following them. Maybe that’s why the book of Hebrews says, “Let us lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith…” (emphasis mine)
“God appeared to Jacob again” in Bethel and reminded Jacob that he had a new name. Hey, son, remember when we wrestled at Peniel? You lost, but you also won. I broke you in order to bless you. I took away your name in order to give you a new name, a new identity, a new purpose, a new calling.
God says to you and me, “Do you remember when I saved you and you died to your sins and were raised to live again in Christ? I gave you a new name then, ‘child of God.”’ I gave you a new identity: no longer a slave but adopted as a son or daughter in Christ. I gave you a new purpose and a new calling: ‘the life you now live in the flesh you live by faith in the Son of God.’” We may say, but how can we do this, Lord? How can we live in that new identity and for that new purpose?
God told Jacob how when he said, “I am God Almighty.” El Shaddai. I am the God who provides for you in every way. Not just with sunshine and rain and flowers and good food. I provide all that you need to live your new life as a son or daughter and no longer a slave. I am so you can BE!
Do you ever play the “what-if” game? We all do. What if you could suddenly understand your dog? Or what if your mom was a spy? You might want to take a closer look at her right now…But there’s a deadly version that I don’t recommend playing, especially after a tragedy. It can heap shame and guilt on top of the grace the Lord is pouring out to bring you healing. Peter may have played that game for three days after Jesus’ arrest in the garden: what if my sword had been true and I had been able to stop them from taking the Lord? We know how that story ended. Here are some what ifs for the tragic story of Dinah’s rape in Genesis 34.
What if Jacob had obeyed God and gone back to Bethel, instead of settling first in Succoth and then in Shechem? What if Jacob had not let his only daughter wander alone in a wicked city? What if Jacob had not been such a passive bystander after his daughter’s assault? What if Jacob had understood the level of his sons’ rage after the assault and had responded strongly to them? We don’t know. Here’s what we do know.
It’s an ugly story, there’s just no way around it, and like so many of the stories we have read in Genesis, there are no real winners. God is the hero of the book but in this story, he is ignored by all.
Dinah was the youngest of Leah’s seven children, and the only girl. Most likely she was a teenager around 15 years old, but we cannot know for sure. She “went out” to see the women of the land, and in doing so Allen Ross says she “loosened the stone for the slide.” In the Old Testament, the wording there for “went out” often refers to making a poor moral choice. But the question is whether Jacob or Leah knew she was wandering in the city. Did she tell them she was going to see the town on her own and Jacob just shrugged? Or did Jacob absolutely forbid it and she did it anyway? Again, we cannot be certain. Leon Morris writes, “Unattached young women were considered fair game in cities of the time, in which promiscuity was not only common but, in fact, a part of the very religious system itself.” Even in the near east today Arab women and Muslim women never go out into public alone. They are always together. It was then and is now a dangerous world for young people, especially young girls, and every parent’s worst nightmare happened to Dinah.
The report of the assault is essential to the story, and Moses makes it clear that it was an assault. Shechem “saw her…seized her…lay with her… humiliated her.” The construction of the phrase, “lay with her” in Hebrew does not include “with,” as it does later when Potiphar’s wife says to Joseph, “lie with me.” There is no indication of consent with Dinah, only force and a violent crime that humiliated this young girl and is one of the most shameful events in the Old Testament. Shechem took advantage of this young woman, and then happily took her to his home. Then what happened?
Moses writes that Shechem “loved the young woman and spoke tenderly to her.” What a perversion of what the order of such a relationship is to be! The word of God is clear: A man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. Shechem forced Dinah to “become one flesh,” a clear violation of the law of God, and then decided that he “loved her,” which was probably nothing more than sensual desire, and began to pursue her as a wife. Young people, be careful not to fall into the trap that has been prevalent since the fall. “Young men use ‘love’ to get intimacy and young women use intimacy to get love” is a cliché for a reason. In the case of Shechem and Dinah, he alone was the guilty party, even though she was in the wrong place at the wrong time. His violent demand for immediate gratification would have deadly consequences.
You can read the rest of the story, but the sad truth is that Dinah is never heard from again in the Bible. The “what if” questions are haunting.
Even though we were post-COVID in 2022, the effects of the pandemic continued. One of the results for churches everywhere has been a re-shuffling of the deck, where people have moved around some, but the worst part has been that some cards simply fell out of the deck. I wrote in my journal last February, “Online church can be and is a great blessing to the shut-in, but it can also be a great disincentive as well.” What happens when the shut-in becomes a stay-in? The person who could not get out because of the virus or because of other extenuating circumstances can easily become the person who won’t get out when those circumstances are just a memory. This is what the writer of Hebrews is saying in chapter 10. Verse 25, “not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some.” The habit of some has become to not meet together with other believers, and the time when the believers are in the habit of meeting, since Jesus rose from the dead, is the first day of the week. The word there for habit is ethos in the Greek, which literally means custom, usual practice, or manner of living. We are known by and marked by our ethos, the way we customarily live our lives. If we only gather with the saints when it is convenient to do so, then our ethos, our manner of living, is marked by that. But we are invited into the assembling of ourselves together on a weekly basis. That’s why the church was called ekklesia in the New Testament, 115 times. It means “called out,” and the people of God are spiritually and by God’s grace called out of the world and into Christ, into his body, a local fellowship and assembly of believers. That means they are also physically called out of their homes and called into the place where the church is meeting, if they are physically able. We have to be very careful with the habits we create, especially any habit that draws us away from the physical gathering of God’s people.
The writer of Hebrews is concerned about this and wants the people of God to be concerned as well. What should we do? Verse 24: Let us consider one another. The word means to observe, to notice. We love each other and notice when something is wrong, or when someone has been missing the gathering. That’s good, but then we are called to consider “how to stir up one another to love and good works.” The idea there requires a moving towards another intentionally in order to bring them in, draw them back, call them again towards love and good works. And in verse 25, the writer adds, “encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
I remember the story of a pastor who visited a church member years ago who had stopped coming. They sat together in the man’s den, just the two of them, and there was a roaring fire in fireplace. The pastor told the man he missed him at church and encouraged him to come back. The man made some excuses as to why he wasn’t coming and ended with, “Pastor, I am doing fine. I’ll come back to church one day but honestly, I can’t really see the need for it sometimes. I still read my Bible, pretty much, and still pray when I think about it.” The pastor nodded and got up from his chair and walked over to the fire. He took the poker from the hearth and reached in with it to pull one of the small logs away from the burning pile of wood. Then he sat down, and the two men watched in silence as the small log that had been separated from the pile of wood smoldered for a few minutes and then went out. The man nodded and said, “Thanks for coming by, pastor. I’ll see you all on Sunday.”
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Chestnuts roasting on an open fire. I’m dreaming of a white Christmas. I daresay every one of you can sing along with me on any of those tunes, and many more besides. They have become synonymous with the American Christmas experience. They help, some say, “get you in the Christmas spirit.” Along with eggnog and stockings and George Bailey and Charlie Brown.
I love those American Christmas traditions. And they can have a place in our celebrations, I think. But like the cattle in the Bethlehem stable, they simply become window dressing or background scenes to the real story. Because Christmas is not Christmas without Christ. This is the season in which the whole world, even many who do not believe, celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. You can try to bury the truth in a mountain of gift wrap and candy canes, but facts are stubborn things.
Imagine at your next birthday party, all of your friends gather to celebrate. But instead of bringing you gifts and singing Happy Birthday to you, instead of eating cake and ice cream, the celebration is wildly different. One stands and sings a happy little song about the stork that “brings presents to all.” Another gives a thirty-minute lecture about cabbage, complete with pictures and props. Then everybody eats and drinks until they cannot move. There is not a single word about you and your birth. Not a single story about how your life has impacted another. No gifts, no cards, nothing about you at all. It was your birthday, but you were not even mentioned the whole evening. Could that really be called your “birthday party?”
If I told you I knew Buddy Greene, and he came here once to do a concert, that would not mean much to most of you. But if I started singing, “Mary, Did You Know?” you would probably be able to sing along with me. Mark Lowry wrote the words and gave them to Buddy, who is a Christian singer and songwriter living in Nashville, and Buddy wrote the music the next day. The song has been recorded by dozens of artists. I think this song captures better than “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” what we celebrate as followers of the Lord Jesus.
Mary did you know that your baby boy would some day walk on water?
Mary did you know that your baby boy would save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?
This child that you’ve delivered, will soon deliver you.
Mary did you know that your baby boy would give sight to a blind man?
Mary did you know that your baby boy would calm a storm with his hand?
Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?
And when your kiss your little baby, you have kissed the face of God.
Oh Mary did you know—
The blind will see, the deaf will hear, the dead will live again.
The lame will leap, the dumb will speak, the praises of the lamb—.
Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary did you know that your baby boy would one day rule the nations?
Did you know that your baby boy is heaven’s perfect Lamb?
This sleeping child you’re holding is the great–I— AM—.
Ahhh. Now that is a song that celebrates the real deal. So, without apologies at all to the ACLU, I wish you all a very merry, Christ-centered, Christmas.
“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”
That is the meaning of Christmas. God sent his son to redeem us and to adopt us. Have you figured up how much you will spend on Christmas gifts this year? There’s an amount, right? You add it up and it may come to the estimated national average per household this year of $830 for Christmas gifts, still climbing out of the hole of 2008 when it dropped to $616. No matter what we spend, we all have to set spending limits, right? I remember our first Christmas when Cindy and I each took a ten-dollar bill, split up at the mall, and went off to find that ‘perfect’ gift for $10 or less for each other. That Christmas was just as happy, just as blessed as all the rest.
God did not have a spending limit for the first Christmas. He spared no expense in creating the star that would be in place above Bethlehem at just the right time. He went all out in having Caesar Augustus plan a census for the whole Roman world to go to the city of their heritage so they could be registered. God did not skimp on birth announcements, either. He sent Gabriel, his best messenger angel to earth more than once. But all of that pales in comparison to what God actually gave the world. God sent forth his Son. His one and only son. Forget Hallmark. God sent the very best.
Read the rest of Galatians 4 for the incredible news that you can use. You and I were born slaves. Through Jesus’ sacrifice, we are invited into a new relationship as a child of God and a joint heir with Jesus. But there’s a problem, for many who become sons continue to live as slaves, even though they know God and better still, are known BY God. Two weeks ago I sat with my family in the second row at a concert by Steven Curtis Chapman. There were a lot of people there who know Steven, but not personally. We know his music, know his face, and know his testimony. I have met him once because I have the same friend named Larry that Steven wrote about in one of his songs. As I sat there that night I thought, how cool would it be if Steven recognized me and said, “Hey, is that you, Mark?” But he didn’t. He didn’t acknowledge me because he doesn’t know me. Shocker. But here’s the biggest shocker of all: GOD does know me. And He knows you, too.
I love the story of the wee little man named Zaccheus who climbed up a tree because he had heard of Jesus and wanted to get a glimpse of him. Imagine his surprise when Jesus called up to him, “Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” Jesus knew him by name, and more than that, Jesus asked Zaccheus to be a family member and a friend.
That is the meaning of Christmas. It is why we celebrate, and put manger scenes in our homes and churches. It is why we sing Silent Night and Joy to the World, and give gifts and get together with family and friends. It is because God sent His Son to redeem us, to adopt us, and to give us the greatest gift of all: himself.
It had been at least 14 years since Jacob started working for Laban to “earn” his wife, Rachel. The agreement has been fulfilled, Joseph has been born, Jacob’s wife is happy, at least one of them, and he is ready to go. But I like the fact that Jacob just doesn’t just slip away in the night with his 4 wives and his 11 sons and 1 daughter. He goes to his father-in-law and asks him to release him. “Send me away, that I may go to my own home and country…you know the service that I have given you.” It was a show of respect for his father-in-law even though it sounded like a demand. Laban then appeals to Jacob for a favor but notice how these two men acknowledge the truth and its source.
Laban says he has learned “in divination” that the reason he has been blessed by God is because of Jacob. Divination will be prohibited by God in Deuteronomy 18, because it was an attempt to find truth in ways that bypass God and his revelation. Consulting a medium, reading tea leaves, interpreting omens or dreams can sometimes reveal truth, but they are not the means by which God directs his people. They can also open worlds of danger. He alone is the source of truth and God has given us his Word. Laban came up with the right idea, that he was blessed only because God’s hand of blessing was on Jacob. But what Laban says he “divined” somehow, Jacob simply stated as fact. He said to Laban, “The Lord has blessed you wherever I have turned.” Emphasis mine. Hey, Laban, you are 100% correct that you have been blessed but don’t miss the connection between God and me to you. Jacob was a great employee because he had a great work ethic, no doubt. But Jacob was also blessed by God, and that blessing had benefitted others.
How should we acknowledge to a watching world that our work ethic and any blessing on us that spills over to others is because of God? We don’t need to say “I’m blessed” every time someone asks us how we are. You certainly may do that, but that’s not enough. We don’t need to put up a poster at work that says, “No God, no peace. Know God, know peace.” Again, not enough. We don’t need to wear a cross around our neck or put a bumper sticker on our car. Especially one that says, “In case of the rapture, this car will be unmanned.” Please don’t put that on your car, for lots of reasons. You may start seeing one on your neighbor’s truck that says, “In case of rapture, can I have your car?”
Ok, so what should we do, instead of trite sayings or posters or bumper stickers? We should speak about him. Use our words. Acknowledge God at every opportunity that is appropriate. Talk about God and God’s truth as the source of life. Be a witness in the fullest meaning of that word. You say, hold up! If I do that in my job or at the club or with the guys or at (fill in the location)…I will get nothing but grief! Maybe even persecution! You may be right, and Peter has a word for you:
“Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that is God’s will, than for doing evil.” -1 Peter 3:13-17
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!