Genesis – First, God
I used to coach elementary volleyball for a few seasons as a teacher. It was a stressful, before and after my teaching day, job. Why? Not because of the kids, but because of the competitive parenting on the sidelines. In volleyball, the most elementary girls I could put on the court was nine. Seventy girls showed up to play! Our goal in elementary intramural sports was to teach them the game, how to be a team and learn how to deal with winning and losing. There were no trophies and tournaments in that day and time. All goes well until you have a mom, who used to play and wants to relive her experience through her child, get in your face during and after the game!
“Why aren’t you playing my girl for more than a few minutes?”, the mom shouts. I tried to explain, “With 70 girls on various teams we are going to rotate them in and out so everyone gets a chance to play.” With our stated goals, it sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? Not to the irrational mom who wants her girl to win at all costs.
I don’t know why I thought of this experience as I read about the child bearing competition between Jacob’s wives and maids, but I did. Serious jealousies and misplaced goals cause problems in relationships. Every. Time. Maybe you will get the connection…
The Song of Solomon reminds us that the Jewish people never minimized the personal joys of marriage, but they also emphasized the responsibility of having children and building a God-fearing family. “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it.… Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward” (Ps. 127:1, 3 nkjv).
The Jews looked upon parenthood as a stewardship before God, and this was especially true in the case of Jacob, whose descendants would multiply “as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore” (Gen. 22:17). God would honor him by making him the father of the twelve tribes of Israel, but the fact that four different women were involved in building his family would create for Jacob one problem after another. The man who had grown up in a divided and competitive home (25:28) would himself create a divided and competitive family.
Genesis 30, The Message
When Rachel realized that she wasn’t having any children for Jacob, she became jealous of her sister. She told Jacob, “Give me sons or I’ll die!”
2 Jacob got angry with Rachel and said, “Am I God? Am I the one who refused you babies?”
3-5 Rachel said, “Here’s my maid Bilhah. Sleep with her. Let her substitute for me so I can have a child through her and build a family.” So she gave him her maid Bilhah for a wife and Jacob slept with her. Bilhah became pregnant and gave Jacob a son.
6-8 Rachel said, “God took my side and vindicated me. He listened to me and gave me a son.” She named him Dan (Vindication). Rachel’s maid Bilhah became pregnant again and gave Jacob a second son. Rachel said, “I’ve been in an all-out fight with my sister—and I’ve won.” So she named him Naphtali (Fight).
9-13 When Leah saw that she wasn’t having any more children, she gave her maid Zilpah to Jacob for a wife. Zilpah had a son for Jacob. Leah said, “How fortunate!” and she named him Gad (Lucky). When Leah’s maid Zilpah had a second son for Jacob, Leah said, “A happy day! The women will congratulate me in my happiness.” So she named him Asher (Happy).
14 One day during the wheat harvest Reuben found some mandrakes in the field and brought them home to his mother Leah. Rachel asked Leah, “Could I please have some of your son’s mandrakes?”
15 Leah said, “Wasn’t it enough that you got my husband away from me? And now you also want my son’s mandrakes?”
Rachel said, “All right. I’ll let him sleep with you tonight in exchange for your son’s love-apples.”
16-21 When Jacob came home that evening from the fields, Leah was there to meet him: “Sleep with me tonight; I’ve bartered my son’s mandrakes for a night with you.” So he slept with her that night. God listened to Leah; she became pregnant and gave Jacob a fifth son. She said, “God rewarded me for giving my maid to my husband.” She named him Issachar (Bartered). Leah became pregnant yet again and gave Jacob a sixth son, saying, “God has given me a great gift. This time my husband will honor me with gifts—I’ve given him six sons!” She named him Zebulun (Honor). Last of all she had a daughter and named her Dinah.
22-24 And then God remembered Rachel. God listened to her and opened her womb. She became pregnant and had a son. She said, “God has taken away my humiliation.” She named him Joseph (Add), praying, “May God add yet another son to me.”
25-26 After Rachel had had Joseph, Jacob spoke to Laban, “Let me go back home. Give me my wives and children for whom I’ve served you. You know how hard I’ve worked for you.”
27-28 Laban said, “If you please, I have learned through divine inquiry that God has blessed me because of you.” He went on, “So name your wages. I’ll pay you.”
29-30 Jacob replied, “You know well what my work has meant to you and how your livestock has flourished under my care. The little you had when I arrived has increased greatly; everything I did resulted in blessings for you. Isn’t it about time that I do something for my own family?”
31-33 “So, what should I pay you?”
Jacob said, “You don’t have to pay me a thing. But how about this? I will go back to pasture and care for your flocks. Go through your entire flock today and take out every speckled or spotted sheep, every dark-colored lamb, every spotted or speckled goat. They will be my wages. That way you can check on my honesty when you assess my wages. If you find any goat that’s not speckled or spotted or a sheep that’s not black, you will know that I stole it.”
34 “Fair enough,” said Laban. “It’s a deal.”
35-36 But that very day Laban removed all the mottled and spotted billy goats and all the speckled and spotted nanny goats, every animal that had even a touch of white on it plus all the black sheep and placed them under the care of his sons. Then he put a three-day journey between himself and Jacob. Meanwhile Jacob went on tending what was left of Laban’s flock.
37-42 But Jacob got fresh branches from poplar, almond, and plane trees and peeled the bark, leaving white stripes on them. He stuck the peeled branches in front of the watering troughs where the flocks came to drink. When the flocks were in heat, they came to drink and mated in front of the streaked branches. Then they gave birth to young that were streaked or spotted or speckled. Jacob placed the ewes before the dark-colored animals of Laban. That way he got distinctive flocks for himself which he didn’t mix with Laban’s flocks. And when the sturdier animals were mating, Jacob placed branches at the troughs in view of the animals so that they mated in front of the branches. But he wouldn’t set up the branches before the feebler animals. That way the feeble animals went to Laban and the sturdy ones to Jacob.
43 The man got richer and richer, acquiring huge flocks, lots and lots of servants, not to mention camels and donkeys.
DIVIDING THE HERDS
The time had come for Jacob to move his large family to his own homeland and be on his own. He now had eleven sons and one daughter, and he had more than fulfilled his part of the bargain. He had earned the right to freedom. It was time to stop working for Laban and start building his own future security.
But crafty Laban wasn’t about to lose his son-in-law, especially when he knew that Jacob’s presence had brought to him the blessing of God. Meanwhile, Laban wasn’t interested in Jacob’s God; he was interested only in the blessings he received because of Jacob’s God. Laban surely knew of the promises God had made to Abraham and his descendants (12:3), and he wanted to get the most out of them.
GOD CONTROLS THE BLESSINGS
Jacob’s peeled sticks belonged in the same category as Rachel’s mandrakes: They were both superstitious practices that had nothing to do with what actually happened. It was God who controlled the genetic structure of the animals and multiplied the spotted and striped sheep and goats, thus increasing Jacob’s wealth very quickly. At Bethel, God promised to bless Jacob, and He kept His promise (28:13-15), and since Laban had agreed to Jacob’s terms, he could do nothing about the results. All of those animals belonged to Jacob.
During the next six years, Jacob became a very wealthy man because of his faith and the blessing of the Lord. Now he was ready to strike out on his own, return to his own land and people, and fulfill whatever purposes God had planned for him. When he had arrived in Padan Aram twenty years before, all he had was his staff (32:10). But he had worked hard, suffered much, and trusted God. Now he had a large family and owned extensive flocks of healthy sheep and goats, as well as camels and donkeys and servants to care for all the animals.
WHAT DO WE LEARN?
–Ask God what He wants and then do it.
–Wait on God to provide. (Not waiting on God will cause Jacob problems later.)
–Stay focused on the will of God.
–Continue the journey with unwavering faith in God.
–Be wise in establishing your family while dealing with the world’s lack of faith in God.
–When we mess up, all is not lost. Don’t lose faith. God is still in control of all. His –purpose and promises will still be accomplished and reign supremely.
God’s Story has only just begun.
Dear Heavenly Father,
You are God and we are not. We must stay focused on You. We ask for clarity when we move toward your will because life blurs the path from time to time. Be in all the details of our lives. Deliver us from all that is not you. Tell us clearly when to move and when to stay. Help us to always wait on You. I want to know you and be known as one knows you well.
In Jesus Name, Amen