Battle of the Brides

Genesis 30:1-24

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
August 2015

We are in the Book of Genesis.  We have been studying the life of the patriarchs.  We studied the life of Abraham and Isaac and now we are studying the life of Jacob, Abraham’s grandson.  The rest of the Book of Genesis deals with the life of Jacob and his ancestors.  His life is divided into four parts.  His life had four stages based on geography.

He lived in four places.  He was born and grew up in the Promised Land.  After he cheated Esau out of the blessing, he had to leave town and he went to Haran where he picked up a few wives and had some kids.  The he moved back to the Promise Land.  He stayed there until the very end of his life when he moved to Egypt to see Joseph.

Jacob does a lot of traveling.  He was much more adventurous than his father Isaac who did not travel as much.  Isaac never left the Promised Land.  Jacob leaves the Promise Land twice but most of the time he lived in Canaan.  He lived in Haran for twenty years (31:38, 41) and he lived in Egypt for seventeen years (47:28).  That means that he spent one hundred and ten years in the Promise Land.

Last week, we saw how Jacob got married. He arrived in Haran, saw Rachel and fell instantly in love with her.  It was love at first sight.  The Bible says that she was beautiful.  There must have been some good genes in that family.  Laban’s sister Rebekah was beautiful (24:16; 26:7).  Laban’s daughter Rachel was beautiful (29:17) and so was his grandson Joseph. Rachel’s son Joseph was also said to be handsome (39:6).  Joseph had some of his mom’s good looks.

Gary Owen commented after our last class that all of the Patriarchs married beautiful women and he is absolutely right.  Abraham’s wife Sarah was beautiful.  He lied twice because he was afraid that someone would kill him to get her.  Isaac’s wife Rebekah was beautiful.  Isaac did the same thing his father did and lied about who his wife was.  Now, we are told that Jacob’s wife was also beautiful.

Jacob wants to marry Rachel but he has no money for a dowry, because he was poor.  Laban agrees to give Rachel to him in marriage, as long as he works for him for seven years but Laban pulls a bait and switch tactic and gives Jacob Leah at the last minute.  He ends up marrying Rachel a week later but he has to agree to Laban to work another seven years for him.

As we come to Genesis 30, we see a bitter rivalry between two sisters.  We saw a rivalry in Genesis before with two brothers (Jacob and Esau) and now we see one with two sisters (Leah and Rachel).  This section is about the battle of the brides.  What is the rivalry over?  What are they fighting about?  Children.  It may seem silly to us today but this was deadly serious to them.  This is a contest over who can have the most babies.  It became a competition.

In this section, the battle was fought in three arenas.  The first battle was between the sisters themselves (Rachel and Leah).  The second battle was between the sister’s servants.  When Leah and Rachel could no longer conceive, they fought this battle by proxy through surrogates.  The third battle was over the mandrakes which in their view helped with conception.

Jacob has conflict in marriage.  Jacob has not two but four wives.  He has two wives and two concubines.  Two primary wives and two secondary wives.  That caused some tension in the home.  Polygamy always causes a problem.  It puts a strain on the marriage.  Being married to four women caused conflict.  It is not what God originally ordained for marriage.  Being married to sisters caused even more conflict.  Leah and Rachel were sisters.

They may not have been the only sisters.  In this class you will be exposed to some things you might not have heard before.  You may not have known this but, according to Jewish tradition, Jacob’s two concubines were also sisters.  It is the Pseudepigripha (Jubilees 28:9).  We do not know if it is true, although they do sound like sister names (Zilpah and Bilhah).

If that is true, it would mean that Jacob was married to not one but two sets of sisters. The Law of Moses later prohibited the marriage of two living sisters.  Leviticus 18:16 says, “Do not take your wife’s sister as a rival wife and have sexual relations with her while your wife is living” (NIV).  This was was not around in Jacob’s day, so he was not violating any rule.  This was not forbidden until the time of Moses and it was not what Jacob wanted to do.  It is what happened because he was tricked.

Jacob married four women but he was only in love with one of them.  The Bible says that Leah was rather plain compared to her sister Rachel.  Rachel looked like a beauty queen.  Leah was not necessarily ugly but she just looked plain.  She was a Plain Jane.  Jacob didn’t want Leah, didn’t choose Leah and didn’t love Leah and Leah was devastated.  The Bible says that God saw this.

God did not change her looks and give her a make-over.  He just gave her a lot of kids. That was how he blessed Leah.  That is how God brought equality to Leah and Rachel.  Rachel had some things that Leah didn’t have (good looks) and Leah had some things that Rachel didn’t have (children).  No one gets everything in life.  We all have different problems in life.

God gives us all different kinds of trials.  For some women, their trial is that they do not have a husband.  For other women, their trial is that their husband is a big fat jerk.  Some people’s trial is that they do not have a job and they need one.  For other people, their job is their trial.  Every time they go to work, it becomes a battle zone.  They can’t stand their job and who they have to work with every day.

The Battle of the Sisters

Leah had some problems. She was not physically attractive and her husband did not love her.  Rachel did not have those problems.  She had other problems.  Her problem was that she was infertile.  She did not have any kids but God gave her other things.  He gave her beauty.  She looked like a super model. Rachel was beautiful but barren. Rachel does three things in this chapter.

1. Rachel envies her sister who has many children

When Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, she envied her sister. She said to Jacob, “Give me children, or I shall die!” (30:1 ESV).  This seems very strange.  Rachel here envies her sister Leah.  The pretty sister envies the plain sister.  Rachel is the one who was drop dead gorgeous. She had the most important position in the home.  She was Jacob’s favorite wife.  He loved her the most and yet Rachel envies Leah.  Why?  Leah had something that she did not have and she wanted it.

She had kids, many of them and she seemed to have no problem getting pregnant.  They were coming out like rabbits.  Each sister is jealous of the gifts that the other sister has and covets them.  The grass is greener on the other side.  Leah did not provoke Rachel.  She did not tease or mock Rachel.  She did not mistreat Rachel.  She simply had something that Rachel did not have and she was jealous.

Rachel looks around and what does she see.  Everyone around her was getting pregnant. Leah can have kids.  Bilhah can have kids.  Zilpah can have kids but Rachel cannot have kids no matter how hard she tries.  Jealousy is a serious sin.  It can lead to some serious problems.  Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery and almost killed him because of jealousy. They were jealous because he was their dad’s favorite (37:11).

It was the motive of the first murder.  Cain killed Abel because he was jealous.  God accepted Cain’s offering but rejected Abel’s and that made him mad.  The Bible teaches that Jesus was killed out of jealousy (Matthew 27:18).  We are told in the NT that love does not envy (I Corinthians 13:4).

2. Rachel takes her frustration out on her husband.

She said to Jacob, ‘Give me children, or I shall die!’”  She does not talk to God about her problem.  She talks to Jacob.  The Bible says that “Children are a gift from the Lord, the fruit of the fruit of the womb is His reward” (Psalm 127:3).  Jacob was strong enough to open a well (remember last week how he moved the top of the well cover for Rachel).

He was strong enough to open a well but wasn’t strong enough to open a womb that had been closed.  Only God could do that.  God had opened Leah’s womb but had not opened Rachel’s womb but Rachel does not go to God.  She goes to Jacob instead.  She goes to the wrong source.  Do we ever do that today?  Do we ever turn to people when we have a problem, instead of turning to the Lord?

Jesus did not say “In this world you will have no problems”.  He said, “In this world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33).  We often go to people to solve our problems when the only one who can solve them is God.  Jesus said, “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:6).  The Bible says, “Cast all you cares upon Him for he cares for you” (I Peter 5:7).  Rachel turns to Jacob and her request had two characteristics.

First, it was completely irrational.  She gives Jacob an unrealistic request.  She says, “Give me children” as if that was something that he had the power to do.  She doesn’t even say, “give me a child”.  She says, “Give me children” (plural).  What was Jacob’s response?  Jacob responded in anger.  Genesis 30:2 says, “Jacob’s anger was kindled against Rachel, and he said, “Am I in the place of God, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?”

Here is a switch.  Jacob was madly in love with Rachel and now he is angry at Rachel.  He is not a real sympathetic husband here.  He should not have been angry.  He should have prayed for his wife instead.  That is what his dad did when his mom was infertile for twenty years.  Instead of praying, he says to Rachel.  He basically says, “I am not God.  God is the one in charge of children.  He is the one who causes conception, not me”.  He may also have been thinking “infertility is not my problem.  It is yours.  I had four kids with Leah.”

Second, her request was desperate.  You can hear it in the request. Rachel says, “Give me children, or I shall die!” Rachel wasn’t going to die if she didn’t have children.  That was a slight exaggeration.  In fact, it was her kids that actually killed her.  She died in childbirth.  She died giving birth to her second son (35:16-18).

If Rachel did not have kids, she thought life was not worth living.  Her value and worth as a person was dependent on her having kids.  Many people do the same thing today.  They say, “If I only get married, then I will be happy” or “If I only made ten thousand more dollars, then I would be happy.”  What is the error here?  It puts our happiness in things.  It puts our worth as a person in the number of possessions we have.

3. Rachel takes matters into her own hands.

When she cannot get anywhere with Jacob, she decides to do things herself.  In Genesis 29, we are told that God saw some things.  He saw that Leah was hated and did something about it (29:31).  Now we are told that Rachel sees something.  She sees that she is infertile and decides to do something about it (31:1-3).  She said, “Here is my servant Bilhah; go in to her, so that she may give birth on my behalf, that even I may have children through her” (30:3).  Her solution is to use a surrogate mother.  The problem is that it involves adultery or polygamy.

The Battle of the Servants

We can be very critical of what Rachel does here but we have to remember that this was what people did in the Ancient Near East to solve the problem of infertility.  It was perfectly legal.  It was socially accepted.  Everyone was doing it.  By our standards today, this sounds like a bad idea but it is what people did in that day. There were no fertility clinics back then.

The plan worked. “And Bilhah conceived and bore Jacob a son. Then Rachel said, “God has judged me, and has also heard my voice and given me a son.” Therefore she called his name Dan. Rachel’s servant Bilhah conceived again and bore Jacob a second son. Then Rachel said, “With mighty wrestlings I have wrestled with my sister and have prevailed.” So she called his name Naphtali” (30:5-8).

Bihah not only got pregnant once, she got pregnant twice and gave Rachel two sons (Dan, Naphtali).  Rachel’s first two sons were from a surrogate.  Notice how Rachel took this.  Rachel’s response shows you her mental state.  Both of her responses were incorrect.  First, she took it as victory over her sister (30:8).  These were not just babies.  This was a contest with Leah.  The score right now was Leah four, Rachel two.  She is slowly catching up.

Second, she credited God for the births.  That sounds spiritual but basically it is Rachel’s way of saying that God approved of what she did and blessed her efforts.  Rachel had the ends justifies the means philosophy.  Just because what Rachel did worked doesn’t mean that it was right. God did not tell Jacob to do this.

How did Leah responded?  She was just as competitive.  If it worked for Rachel, she wanted to see if it would work for her, so she did the same thing Rachel did.  Leah tried it and got the same results.

When Leah saw that she had ceased bearing children, she took her servant Zilpah and gave her to Jacob as a wife. Then Leah’s servant Zilpah bore Jacob a son. And Leah said, “Good fortune has come!” so she called his name Gad. Leah’s servant Zilpah bore Jacob a second son. And Leah said, “Happy am I! For women have called me happy.” So she called his name Asher” (30:9-13)

The Battle over the Mandrakes

“In the days of wheat harvest Reuben went and found mandrakes in the field and brought them to his mother Leah. Then Rachel said to Leah, “Please give me some of your son’s mandrakes.” But she said to her, “Is it a small matter that you have taken away my husband? Would you take away my son’s mandrakes also?” Rachel said, “Then he may lie with you tonight in exchange for your son’s mandrakes.” When Jacob came from the field in the evening, Leah went out to meet him and said, “You must come in to me, for I have hired you with my son’s mandrakes.” So he lay with her that night. And God listened to Leah, and she conceived and bore Jacob a fifth son.” (30:14-17).

Now this seems very strange.  When I first read this after I became a Christian, I had no idea what this was talking about.  Mandrakes are a plant that grows in the Middle East.  We do not have them in North Carolina.  It is a biblical herb.  They are mentioned two times in the Bible.  They are mentioned five times in Genesis 30 and once in Song of Solomon (7:13).  Many in the ancient world believed that they help with fertility.  It is a myth.  There is no scientific evidence that mandrakes help with fertility or pregnancy.

Leah’s son finds them.  Rachel wants them.  Leah says you can have them if I get to sleep with Jacob tonight.  Rachel agrees and that night Leah is the one who gets pregnant.  It had nothing to do with the mandrakes.  It had to do with God listening to Leah (30:17).  At the end of the chapter, Rachel gets pregnant but it is not because of the mandrakes.  It is because that God opened her womb (30:22)

Lessons from this Conflict

There are so many lessons that we can learn from this section.

1. God is the one in charge of conception.  Even if there are natural supplements today which support conception, God is the one who causes it.

2. Beware of jealousy. This section says something about the danger of jealousy.  Jealousy is a work of the flesh.

3. No one gets everything in this life.  God gave Leah and Rachel different gifts.

4. Turn to God, rather than people, in time of need.  Rachel and Leah do not do this.

5. Beware of misreading providence.  Both Rachel and Leah believed that God rewarded them for their surrogate mother scheme.

6. Be careful what you ask for.  Rachel ask for children but they became a mixed blessing. One of them led to her death.

7. Beware of competing with people.  Christians should not be competitive.

Many of us are very competetive.  We compete in sports and then come into the church and continue to compete with other Christians.  Churches compete with other churches.  Pastors compete with other pastors.  Small groups compete with other small groups.  Everyone likes to have a bigger group or church. Some Christians approach ministry like a sports event.

The Apostles did not compete with one another.  Paul said that he labored more than all of the other Apostles.  That was a fact but it did not make him feel superior to the other Apostles.  He said it was not him but the grace of God which enabled him to do that (I Corinthians 15:10).  Paul said that he was not even worthy to be called an Apostle, because he persecuted the church (I Corinthians 15:9).


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