God's Sovereign Grace. Genesis 29
What we see in this section is God working covertly behind the scenes in the life of Jacob and the lives of Leah and Rachel and in Laban, and working things together to produce spiritual growth. This covers a twenty-year period of time and He is preparing them for the next stage. The key to understanding this period is that God is prospering Jacob. From the divine side we see the emphasis on the grace of God, that God bestows His blessing upon us based on who He is and what He has done, and based on His plan and purposes. It doesn't have anything to do with who we are or what we have done. This is the one thing people get confused about. We really see this in this episode because God has determined to do something in history through the line of Abraham. It had nothing to do with who Abraham was or what Abraham did, it had everything to do with what God was going to do in history, and for whatever reason, we are not told, God chose Abraham and it was going to be through Abraham and his descendants that God would bless the entire world. Jacob then comes along, the grandson of Abraham, and he is the one who is the designated heir, the one who is going to receive the blessing.
Genesis 29:30, "And he went in also unto Rachel, and he loved also Rachel more than Leah, and served with him yet seven other years." How would we feel if we were Leah? She has known for seven years that Jacob loves Rachel, and Rachel is the one who has all of his attention and now Leah is a part of this whole scheme to outwit him. Now he has ended up with Rachel as well and Leah is sort of left out in the cold. But from what unfolds here we see that Leah is in love with Jacob as well as Rachel. She wants his love and affection and to be the center of his life, so there is this competitive situation that is set up. This is the first time we have plural marriage entering into the Scripture from the perspective of the believer and serving the Lord. Esau had multiple wives and plural marriage was typical of paganism. It is always typical of paganism and every time in the Scripture when there is anyone taking more than one wife it is always clear that they are imitating the culture around them. This is not God's ideal. It was not God's design or intent, even though it was socially acceptable at the time, it was a violation of God's standard for marriage. Nevertheless, what we see is that God is still blessing the union, not because of what they have done but because of the prior promise to Abraham. The principle here is to recognize that much in our lives falls short of God's standards, but nevertheless God deals with us in grace. He meets us where we are and not where we ought to be, which is what legalism does. Legalism says that before God can bless you, you have to be here where you should be. God never meets us where we ought to be, He meets us where we are despite our sinfulness. And that is one of the major themes that runs through this section. God is going to bless Jacob and Rachel and Leah despite the fact that they get all caught up in a lot of failures and a lot of manipulation trying to get His blessing. He continues with His plan and it is not dependent on who they are or what they've done.
In the marriage, Leah and Rachel both were given a wedding gift. Each was allowed to take their maid with her. So Leah has her main Zilpah and Rachel has her maid Bilhah. We are going to see the same problem as a couple of generations back with Sarah and her maidservant Hagar, and they are going to make a the same kind of mistakes. So we see a lot of problems, flaws and failures in this family. We might just imagine what some of the tensions were in this family living under Jacob's tent where he was living with four women.
As we start the next section, Genesis 29:31, we see how God deals graciously with Leah by providing her children, but He leaves Rachel barren. This is brought out because the section itself begins with a note about Rachel's barrenness, and at the end of the section in 30:22 we are reminded of Rachel's barrenness and God opens her womb. So the whole Leah-Rachel episode is a subset of the Jacob-Laban cycle. In the Rachel-Leah cycle of competitiveness it begins and ends with a note related to Rachel's barrenness. That tells us that that is a main thing that we ought to pay attention: that she is barren for a reason. What God is doing here with Rachel is teaching her the principle that she has to get to that point where she is willing to trust Him, and then she will have the maturity to appreciate the blessing of having a son. Jacob has problems because he is trying to manipulate God. He also has problems because now Laban has out-connived him and he has become the victim, and there is this subjective victimhood mentality—somebody maltreated me, mistreated me, now I have all these other problems and difficulties in life, and every time something negative happens you go back to the major event and focus on it, and, if that hadn't happened everything else would be good. You are so absorbed by the fact that somebody mistreated you, victimized you, treated you unjustly, that it keeps you from moving forward in your spiritual life. That is what is happening here: Rachel is barren but she keeps blaming Leah, and she sees this whole marriage thing as the source of all the trouble. She is not grace oriented and she is not dependent upon God. So the barrenness of Rachel is designed for discipline—both punitive discipline for her mental attitude sins of arrogance and self-absorption, but also because of Jacob's unfair treatment of Leah. With one problem, her barrenness, He is using that one issue to both deal with here in terms of her sins and her spiritual growth and Jacob and his spiritual growth.
As a backdrop to this we need to understand the divine viewpoint understanding of children. Psalm 127:4, 5, "As arrows are in the hand of a warrior; so are children of one's youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them …" What the Bible is teaching is that it is a blessing to have children. The emphasis in Scripture is to responsibly have children. They are a blessing from the Lord, and the analogy here is to a warrior with a quiver full of arrows. A warrior is going into battle and is defeating the enemy through his weapons, his arrows. So the backdrop to understanding Psalm 127:5 is spiritual warfare, and the way that we can impact the world, the cosmic system of the devil, is by having children and training them up in the nurture and the admonition of the Lord, teaching them doctrine so that as they grow and mature they live their lives on the basis of the divine viewpoint frame of reference. Then parents are sending them out of the home into the world to have that invisible impact on the world system around us. So there is this positive view all through Scripture of how valuable it is to have children and what a blessing it is. Both Rachel and Leah understand this and God blesses Leah and she has children. God takes note of her situation and He opens her womb. Psalm 9:9, "The LORD also will be a refuge for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble." Psalm 10:17, 18, "LORD, you have heard the desire of the humble: you will prepare their heart, you will cause your ear to hear: to judge the fatherless and the oppressed, that the man of the earth may no more oppress." In other words, God is going to be the one to vindicate Leah, even though Jacob has given all this attention to Rachel. Just because he is married to two women doesn't mean that he should ignore one over the other. Psalm 146:9 states this same principle but it's application is towards orphans and towards widows. "The LORD watches over the strangers; he relieves the fatherless and widow: but the way of the wicked he turns upside down." God is the one who protects those who do not have the protection of a husband or a father. He gives four sons to Leah in rapid succession.
Genesis 29:31-35, "And when the LORD saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb: but Rachel was barren. And Leah conceived, and bare a son, and she called his name Reuben: for she said, Surely the LORD has looked upon my affliction; now therefore my husband will love me. And she conceived again, and bare a son; and said, Because the LORD has heard that I was unloved, he hath therefore given me this son also: and she called his name Simeon. And she conceived again, and bare a son; and said, Now this time will my husband be joined unto me, because I have born him three sons: therefore was his name called Levi. And she conceived again, and bare a son: and she said, Now will I praise the LORD: therefore she called his name Judah; and left bearing."
Every one of the names of the children is a play on words in order to bring out a certain point and they tell us something about the divine viewpoint orientation of Leah. There is a progression here in these names that tells us a lot about her mindset. Then when we look at Rachel, and her maid Bilhah starts having children, those name reflect something. Reuben (the Hebrew form) sounds like the another phrase in the Hebrew, so it is a reminder of this other principle: that God is the one who has looked on her affliction. Leah's orientation is to God. She is grace-oriented, dependent upon God, and she knows that God is the one who is going to vindicate her, not herself. She is not involved in any kind of manipulation on her part in order to try to get the upper hand. When she names Reuben she is making a doctrinal affirmation recognizing that her blessing comes from the Lord. Then she has another son, Simeon: "because the LORD has heard that I was unloved." Then the third son: "Now this time will my husband become attached to me." Because I am the one who can provide him with sons he will become more attached to me, so she names him Levi, which sounds like the Hebrew word meaning to join or to be attached. So there is this longing that is being expressed in her soul that her husband will love her and give his attention and affection to her. But finally she is going to realize that the only way she is going to have happiness and stability in life is because of God. We see that with the fourth son, Judah. He circumstances haven't changed but she is going to name her fourth son Judah which is based on the Hebrew word meaning to confess or to praise or to give thanks. So she recognizes that she is just going to have to relax and praise God and He is the one who is going to give her happiness and fulfillment and meaning in life.
Leah is the one whom God has been blessing and having children, and Rachel has been frustrated because several years have gone by and she still hasn't become pregnant. She is looking at Leah and thinking how she was cheated out of having Jacob as her husband alone, and now she is the one who keeps having the babies, and so she is just becoming consumed with these mental attitude sins where she is focusing on this issue of being cheated in the past. She is bitter and resentful so she comes up with a scheme to try to have substitute productivity, much like Sarah did with Hagar. She is going to substitute her main Bilhah.
Genesis 30:1, "And when Rachel saw that she bare Jacob no children, Rachel envied her sister; and said unto Jacob, Give me children, or else I die." She became jealous of her sister—1st mental attitude sin.
Genesis 30:2, "And Jacob's anger was kindled against Rachel: and he said, Am I in God's stead, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?" This is the woman he loves. Here is a couple who love each other but because they have their priorities wrong and they are not oriented to doctrine first, then what happens is that thew wife is focused on one priority that she thinks is going to get her happiness, not her relationship with the Lord. That in turn stimulates his mental attitude sins (he is already out of fellowship). When they get away from doctrine couples don't have objectivity any more. They get involved in self-absorption, focussing on their job, their career, or whatever it is that is important to them and it just creates more and more conflict within the marriage.
Genesis 30:3, "And she said, Behold my maid Bilhah, go in unto her; and she shall bear on my knees, that I may also have children by her." "Bear on my knees" – in other words, will be hers. This was the custom of the time. So the next two sons are from Bilhah. The first one is called Dan. Genesis 30:6, "And Rachel said, God has vindicated me, and has also heard my voice, and has given me a son: therefore called she his name Dan." Vindication is what she wants. He hasn't vindicated her; she thinks that. This is self-deception. Dan comes from the Hebrew word which means to judge, to contend, to plead. It is her perception. What is she focused on here? She is still focused on the past failure, on the past slights, insults and the deception and everything else. Rather than focusing on God she is consumed with the source of what she thinks the problem is, rather than dealing with the sin in her life.
Notice that the four names that Leah gives indicate her orientation to grace and orientation to God and dependence upon God; the names Rachel gives ficus on the conflict and the difficulty. Bilhah has another son and she names him Naphtali. Genesis 30:8, "And Rachel said, With great wrestlings have I wrestled with my sister, and I have prevailed: and she called his name Naphtali." Naphtali means to wrestle, to struggle. So her focus is on the conflict, not on God's grace and provision.
Then Leah gets into action because she had stopped bearing children. She decides what is good for Rachel is good for her and she is going to bring her maid into action and she gives Zilpah to Jacob.
Genesis 30:10, 11, "And Zilpah Leah's maid bare Jacob a son. And Leah said, How fortunate!: and she called his name Gad." She thinks this is blessing from God and she names him Gad, which means fortune.
Genesis 30:12, 13, "And Zilpah Leah's maid bare Jacob a second son. And Leah said, Happy am I, for the women will call me happy: and she called his name Asher," from the Hebrew word meaning "blessed" or "happiness." Notice that she is not focusing on the conflict, she is focusing on the fact that God has blessed her and she is happy. So we really see an insight into the character and the spiritual nature of these two women.
Then we have a little interlude in verse 14: "And Reuben went in the days of wheat harvest, and found mandrakes in the field, and brought them unto his mother Leah. Then Rachel said to Leah, Give me, I pray thee, of your son's mandrakes." Reuben by now is probably seven or eight years of age and he goes out and finds mandrakes, a small orange fruit. They had a reputation of being an aphrodisiac and also helping in fertility. Rachel is trying to use human viewpoint techniques of trying to improve her own fertility so that maybe she would get over the problem of being barren, but Leah drives a bargain.
Genesis 30:15, "And she said unto her, Is it a small matter that you have taken my husband? and would you take away my son's mandrakes also? And Rachel said, Therefore he shall lie with you to night in return for your son's mandrakes." Rachel uses the word for wages, and we see that this idea that keeps on coming back into the text that you get what you have worked for. So she says there is going to be a wage involved here and she would trade her a night with Jacob for the mandrakes.
Genesis 30:16, 17, "And Jacob came out of the field in the evening, and Leah went out to meet him, and said, You must come in to me; for surely I have hired you with my son's mandrakes. And he lay with her that night. And God hearkened unto Leah, and she conceived, and bore Jacob the fifth son." Again and again we see that it is God who is clearly involved in her fertility and pregnancy. She names this one Issachar, from the Hebrew root which means to hire or wages. This name has the oidea of a man for recompense. She stresses that Issachar is God's reward to her, and she has been trusting in God during this time of barrenness.
The next child, Zebulun, is Leah's sixth. It is from the Hebrew word which means to bestow upon or to endow someone with something. Genesis 30:20, "And Leah said, God hath endued me with a good dowry; now will my husband dwell with me, because I have born him six sons: and she called his name Zebulun."
Genesis 30:21, "And afterwards she bore a daughter, and called her name Dinah." There is no meaning given to the name of Dinah. The reason is that Dinah plays no role in the history of the nation whatsoever. There is no significance there.
Genesis 30:22, "And God remembered Rachel, and God hearkened to her, and opened her womb. And she conceived, and bore a son; and said, God has taken away my reproach: And she called his name Joseph; and said, May the LORD give me another son." Joseph comes from the root meaning to add or to increase. But it is Joseph who will bring increase to the nation because he is the one who will go to Egypt and the one who God will raise to the position of second highest power in Egypt. Then because of his position in Egypt he will provide a refuge for the rest of the family when they go to Egypt.
The strife in the family continues. In the whole section from verse 21 of chapter 29 to 30:24 God has been increasing the children, and He has been blessing and giving blessing and fertility and productivity to the family. Now we are going to see how He will provide material prosperity to the family.
Genesis 30:25, "And it came to pass, when Rachel had born Joseph, that Jacob said to Laban, Send me away, that I may go unto my own place, and to my country." So he is ready to go home but hasn't really acquired anything while he has been in Haran. He doesn't have anything to show for it. God is taking care of him but He has not prospered him materially. So he says in v. 26, "Give me my wives and my children, for whom I have served you, and let me go: for you know my service which I have rendered you."
Genesis 30:27, "And Laban said unto him, I pray thee, if I have found favour in your eyes, tarry: for I have learned by experience that the LORD hath blessed me for your sake." So what we see from the mouth of Laban is a recognition that it is God who has blessed Laban through his association with Jacob. But Jacob doesn't have anything.
So Laban goes on: Genesis 30:28, "And he said, Appoint me your wages, and I will give it." There's that word "wages" again.
Genesis 30:29, 30, "And he said unto him, You know how I have served you, and how your cattle have faired with me. For it was little which you had before I came, and it is now increased to a multitude; and the LORD has blessed you since my coming: and now when shall I provide for mine own house also?" Jacob has nothing to show for these last 20 years of service.
Genesis 30:31, "And he said, What shall I give you? And Jacob said, You shall not give me any thing: if you will do this thing for me, I will again feed and keep your flock." Jacob is going to come up with this little scheme utilizing what was a sort of superstitious means of animals husbandry at that time. Rather than trusting God to increase his herds and flocks in his possession he is going to try to use this superstitious technique to increase his flocks. But guess what! God blesses him anyway. This flies in the face of our superficial view of God that if we obey Him He is going to increase our material prosperity and if we are disobedient He is going take it away. God is going to bless us for His purposes in our life and it is not necessarily directly related to whether we are obedient or disobedient. You can be disobedient and God may bless you with tremendous material prosperity. On the other hand, you may be obedient and God may take everything away from you, like he did with Job. The issue is what is God's plan for your life and what He is doing in your life.
So they set this thing up in verse 32, "I will pass through all your flock to day, removing from it all the speckled and spotted cattle, and all the brown cattle among the sheep, and the spotted and speckled among the goats: and of such shall be my hire."
Genesis 30:33, "So shall my honesty answer for me in time to come, when you come concerning my wages: every one that is not speckled and spotted among the goats, and brown among the sheep, that shall be counted stolen with me."
Genesis 30:36, "And he [Laban] set three days' journey between himself and Jacob: and Jacob fed the rest of Laban's flocks." Laban is going to make sure that Jacob is not going to get any more from him, so he is going to isolate him and leave him there with the small flock and herd.
Genesis 30:37, Jacob has this superstitious scheme. He is going to take these rods of various kinds of wood and peel off the bark, so that there is a white strip and a dark strip, and a white strip and a dark strip, and he is going to plant these posts in front of the sheep and the goats. The superstition is that whatever the animal saw that would influence the color of whatever was in the womb. It is all superstition and it just doesn't work. It was just their idea at the time. This is just Jacob's scheme.
Genesis 30:39, "And the flocks conceived before the rods, and brought forth cattle ringstreaked, speckled, and spotted." Why? Because God is in control. Eventually Jacob makes his point. God is the one who brought the increase, it didn't have anything to do with the fact that he had a lucky rabbit's foot, as it were. It had to do with the fact that despite his conniving God was going to bless him. What happened was that Jacob's flocks increased. God was now turning the tables on Laban and Laban's decreased. During this time Jacob's flocks multiplied tremendously and he ends up with tremendous wealth; Laban loses his wealth. This is the outworking of the principle that God is going to bless Jacob.
Genesis 30:43, "And the man increased exceedingly, and had much cattle, and maidservants, and menservants, and camels, and asses." Now it is time to go home, and that is the focus of chapter thirty-one. Now he is ready, and there is going to be one more episode on the way back. What we will see is that even though the focus in these chapters has been on Jacob's failures, his manipulations, and everything, nevertheless there has been spiritual growth and maturity, because on the way home something is going to happen and Jacob is going to get a new name that indicates that he has become spiritually mature. He is going to focus on God and he understands that God is the one who provided everything for him and he is going to look to God as the one who is the source of his blessing, not the tricks and conniving, and we won't see that part of his character anymore after chapter thirty-two.