We’ve got to get Jacob back to Canaan. But first, Jacob is going to have more kids and more Uncle Laban drama to deal with. Read Genesis 30-31.
Think about how Jacob got where he is now. He and his two wives (he only wanted one of them) live with his uncle in a foreign country. He lives there because his brother Esau wants to kill him for stealing what was rightfully his. One of his wives (Leah) pretty much knows that he regards her as ugly and undesirable to be with. Leah knows that he much prefers his other wife, her sister Rachel. And Leah knows that, if not for the scheming of her dad Laban, she would still be single and Jacob would be married to her sister Rachel alone. Leah is the mother of Jacob’s four children, but she really has no relationship with Jacob. This sounds like it could be an episode of Desperate Housewives, but it is how so many families work. No love between husband and wife, no love between in-laws, no love between brothers. Just a lot of scheming and manipulation to get my own way.
There are always unpleasant consequences to sin and disobedience. Always. It may take a while for the consequences to manifest themselves, but they always do in the end. And we are prone to sin and disobedience – which results in messy lives like Jacob, Rachel, Leah’s and Laban. No one in this family is going to escape the consequences of sin. Jacob has two unhappy wives – Leah because Jacob doesn’t love her, and Rachel because she hasn’t been able to have children. Laban has a tense relationship with his nephew, who he has tricked into working for him 7 years longer than he really wanted to. Honestly, the person in he story who is in the best spiritual condition right now is Leah. Leah has chosen, with the birth of her fourth son Judah, to simply praise the Lord in the midst of her difficult ordeal.
What stands out to me in Genesis 30:1-24 is the rivalry between Leah and Rachel with regard to children. Children are far too often made the center of our lives as parents. When we give the need for children, or the need for well-behaved children, centrality in our families, it tends to destroy all other relationships. Particularly petty, although somewhat amusing in a sad way, is the whole incident with the mandrakes. (Genesis 30:14-17) Mandrakes were thought to increase a woman’s fertility. So Reuben, son of Jacob and Leah, finds some mandrakes and Rachel wants them – most likely because she will do anything at this point to conceive a child. Leah’s response shows how much tension exists between these two sisters: “Is it a small matter that you have taken away my husband? Would you take away my son’s mandrakes also?” (Genesis 30:15) It appears that, since Leah has not been able to conceive in a while, Jacob is now sleeping almost exclusively with Rachel, the one he really loves. (If anyone ever tries to tell you that the Old Testament approves of polygamy, I hope you can refute that. The Old Testament records polygamy, but it does not in any way condone it or show it to be a beneficial way for families to live.) In return for the mandrakes, Rachel pimps Jacob out with Leah – eventually resulting in two more kids for Leah. When Rachel finally does conceive, it is not because of the supposed “magical” properties of some plant, but because God “remembered Rachel,” “listened to her,” and “opened her womb.” (Genesis 30:22) Children are always a gift from God, regardless of the way they come to us. Children are a gift from God whether they are natural-born to their parents or adopted by their parents. Israel is actually the perfect example. Here, God is in the process of adopting a family to be his very own people. Some readers of the Bible assume that the Gentiles are the “adopted” children of God, and the Jews are the “natural-born” children. But Paul says that Israel was adopted too. (Romans 9:4) Speaking of Israel, God said, “Your origin and your birth are of the land of the Canaanites; your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite. (Ezekiel 16:3) The Israelites were Gentiles before they were God’s people. God found Israel, “in a desert land, and in the howling waste of the wilderness; he encircled him, he cared for him, he kept him as the apple of his eye.” (Deuteronomy 32:10) God is a very loving and protective adoptive Father!
There is an interesting parallel between the mandrakes in the above passage and the “fresh sticks of poplar and almond and plane trees” in Genesis 30:37. What Jacob believed to be manipulating the breeding of the animals through some kind of magical selective breeding technique was really God simply blessing Jacob over Laban. The moral to this story is simple. We are always trying to find creative ways to do things without depending on God, but in the end God’s will is accomplished in spite of us. Proverbs 16:9 says, “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.” This is true whether you are talking about building a family or building wealth. As the sad saga of Jacob and Laban comes to an end, Jacob has learned this lesson about the Lord’s sovereign hand of protection over those He loves. Jacob has learned that God cannot be manipulated. While Laban continues to insist that everything Jacob owns is his, Jacob tells him this:
Then Jacob became angry and berated Laban. Jacob said to Laban, “What is my offense? What is my sin, that you have hotly pursued me? For you have felt through all my goods; what have you found of all your household goods? Set it here before my kinsmen and your kinsmen, that they may decide between us two. These twenty years I have been with you. Your ewes and your female goats have not miscarried, and I have not eaten the rams of your flocks. What was torn by wild beasts I did not bring to you. I bore the loss of it myself. From my hand you required it, whether stolen by day or stolen by night. There I was: by day the heat consumed me, and the cold by night, and my sleep fled from my eyes. These twenty years I have been in your house. I served you fourteen years for your two daughters, and six years for your flock, and you have changed my wages ten times. If the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had not been on my side, surely now you would have sent me away empty-handed. God saw my affliction and the labor of my hands and rebuked you last night.” (Genesis 31:36-42)
We live in a world in which people believe that the only way to get “what is rightfully mine” or “ahead” is to manipulate or even steal it from others. We live in a world in which we believe that we are “entitled” to things, because we are good people, or because we pay our taxes, or because we are Americans. Ultimately, God is in control, and He reserves the right to bless or to not bless. Jacob is finally beginning to learn that the blessing of God cannot be acquired by scheming or deception (remember that God had already chosen to give his blessing to Jacob before he was born) and that we cannot force the hand of God. These are lessons that we all need to learn again and again.