Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Genesis Chapter 30 ~ Family Growth Through Rivalry and Jacob's Prosperity

Genesis Chapter 30

Family Growth through Rivalry
Rachel envied Leah because she was able to have kids, so she went to Jacob and said, "Give me children, or I shall die!" (30:1) This made Jacob angry and he said, "Am I in the place of God, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?" (30:2) He clearly understood that God was in control of Rachel's infertility. She then asked if he would be intimate with her servant, Bilhah, and he agreed. Bilhah bore a son and Rachel named him Dan, and said, "God has judged me, and has also heard my voice and given me a son." (30:6) Bilhah bore another son and Rachel named him Naphtali, and said, "With mighty wrestlings I have wrestled with my sister and have prevailed." (30:8)

Competition ensued. Leah gave Zilpah, her servant, to Jacob as a concubine (30:9) to do what Rachel had done with Bilhah. Zilpah then bore a son and Leah named him Gad, and said, "Good fortune has come!" (30:11) Then Zilpah bore a second son and Leah named him Asher, and said, "Happy am I! For women have called me happy." (30:12) In some translations what I have as "as a concubine" (30:9) has been translated as "as a wife". The Hebrew can be translated either way, but considering the context of the passage I think "concubine" is more appropriate. There's more that could be said, but I'll leave it at that. Jacob was a polygamist in marrying Rachel and Leah, but not necessarily marrying Bilhah and Zilpah.

During the wheat harvest Reuben found mandrakes and brought them to his mom, Leah. Rachel asked for some of them, and Leah responded with a sharp tongue of how Rachel took Jacob from her and now wanted her son's mandrakes too! So, Rachel said Leah could lay with Jacob that night in exchange for some of Reuben's mandrakes. Later in the evening Jacob came into the field and Leah went to meet him and told him that he must be intimate with her because she had "hired" him with Ruben's mandrakes. He was intimate with her that night, and Leah bore another son named Issachar, and said, "God has given me my wages because I gave my servant to my husband." (30:18) She bore another son as well and named him Zebulun, and said, "God has endowed me with a good endowment; now my husband will honor me, because I have borne him six sons." (30:20) Then she bore a daughter named Dinah. (30:21)

After all of this the Bible says, "Then God remembered Rachel, and God listened to her and opened her womb." (30:22) She bore a son named Joseph, and said, "God has taken away my reproach," and, "May the LORD add to me another son!" (30:23-24)

Here are all the names of the children born in chapter 30 and what the names mean:
6. Dan (son of Rachel's servant Bilhah) - "God has vindicated me"
7. Naphtali (son of Rachel's servant Bilhah) - "with the struggling for God, I have struggled"
8. Gad (son of Leah's servant Zilpah) - "what good fortune" or "luck has come"
9. Asher (son of Leah's servant Zilpah) - "women will call me happy" or "I am to be envied"
10. Isaachar (son of Leah) - "He rewards" or " God has rewarded me"
11. Zebulun (son of Leah) - "God has presented me with a gift" combined with "my husband will acknowledge me as a lawful wife"
12. Dinah (daughter of Leah) - no definition is given (note that Jacob has more daughters later in 46:7)
13. Joseph (son of Rachel) - "May the LORD add to me another son"
Jacob's Desire to Leave and Growth in Prosperity
After all of this Jacob told Laban to send him back to his home country (Beersheba) with his wives (Leah & Rachel) and children, because he finished out his seven year service. Laban said he learned by divination that he was being blessed because of Jacob, and he asked him to name his wages and stay. Jacob affirmed that the prosperity had come because of him, but came back to his original question again and asked to be sent away. Laban responded dodgingly again by asking what Jacob would take in order to stay. Jacob then responded explaining how he would take care of the flock and the (1) speckled and spotted sheep, (2) every black lamb, and (3) every spotted and speckled goat would be his wages (30:32-33). The rest would be Laban's. Jacob claimed to be doing this to prove his honesty, and Laban said, "Good! Let it be as you have said." (30:34) Then we have a contrasting conjunction "but" that indicates Laban was plotting against any prospect of increasing Jacob's prosperity. It says, "But that day Laban removed the [(1)] male goats that were striped and spotted, and all the [(2)] female goats that were speckled and spotted, [(3)] every one that had white on it, and [(4)] every lamb that was black." (30:35) He put those sheep under the charge of his sons, not Jacob, and he set a three days' distance between Jacob and his flock. He basically made it impossible for the flocks to mix and for Jacob's "chances" of prosperity to come true.

Then Jacob took fresh sticks of poplar and almond and plane trees. He peeled white streaks in them and exposed the white of the sticks. Then he set them in front of the flocks in the troughs where they came to drink. The flocks bred in front of the sticks and their offspring were striped, speckled, and spotted (vs. 39).

Jacob separated the lambs by themselves and made the flocks face toward the striped and all the black of the flock of Laban. It seems the "flocks" in this passage is a general term that includes both the sheep and goats, not necessarily the goats in contrast to the sheep (as Waltke pg. 420 seems to indicate from 30:38). Also, from this little description it appears that either Laban changed the terms of their agreement and is now taking some of the striped, speckled, and black, or Jacob is giving Laban more than he is required by their agreement. Jacob basically made two flocks: his own and Laban's. (vs. 40)

Whenever the stronger animals were in heat (mating season) Jacob put the poplar, almond, and plane sticks in the troughs before the eyes of the flock so they'd breed among the sticks. When the weaker of the flock would mate he wouldn't lay the sticks there. So Jacob's flock became stronger, and Laban's weaker, and Jacob increased greatly and had large flocks, male and female servants, camels and donkeys.

Some Thoughts on Genesis 30
It's amazing that around every turn of the narrative in Genesis the sin of man is attempting to put God's purposes to bless His people by bringing them a Messiah in jeopardy. This all in vain though. Yahweh is unstoppable! Here we see all kinds of depravity in Leah and Rachel's competition for children and Jacob's affection. We see the distortion and perversion of the use of sex and children; having their servants lay with Jacob, and then also Leah's "hiring" Jacob by letting Rachel have some of Rueben's mandrakes. We also see the abuse of a husband who puts his wife in the position of having to "hire" him out just to be intimate with her (intimacy in marriage is a "right" as we see later in Moses, Exod. 21:10, and the Apostle Paul, 1 Cor. 7:3). We see Laban and Jacob's schemes to take advantage and "one-up" each-other. In all of this we see the attempt to harness superstitions and the supposed "wisdom of men" in order to benefit their own self-interest (the mandrakes and poplar, almond, and plane trees to increase fertility; divination; etc.). We see deception that is meant to benefit self at the expense of others. We even see the gloating of man when things seemingly work out in his favor, boasting that, "things are better for me than they are for others, and that everyone should envy my blessed condition." We see a lot of self-interest here.

This is the most glaring thing I see in Genesis 30; man's sin and how it works to hurt everyone else for the purpose selfish gain. This is definitely the kind of thinking Christians should avoid. There is a difference between being shrewd (i.e. Luke 16:1-13), being wise (i.e. Matt. 10:16), and being greedy for dishonest gain (1. Tim. 3:8, Titus 1:7). This is just like our hearts as well, isn't it? So often we pursue what we think would be best in the ways we think would be quickest and easiest. Sometimes being tempted to turn to divination like Laban, or putting our hope in medicine, or superstitions to bring us what we think would be the most blessed condition - doing what we want, in the way we want, so that we can get whatever it is that we want. Can you see how arrogant and selfish this is? Wouldn't it be better to find joy and peace in the hands of the Almighty God who is meticulously sovereign over everything in existence. Do we think that if we reject, or put Yahweh off to the side, that our lives would be so much better? Trust me, in the end it will only bring eternal misery. I'm not saying that medicine or human wisdom is always void of the recognition and the power of God. In fact modern medicine is a miracle created by the very hand of God. But how much hope do we put in this stuff? And if we put hope in these things in the place of God, and do it to the detriment of others as well, we may become responsible for the stuff that nightmares are made of (the destruction of human embryos comes to mind, or some of the advances in modern science through the horrors of the Nazi's). Can you see the horrors of human sin; both in the human heart and behavior? Can you see this in your heart and actions?

Even among all of this sin we see that God at work too (30:17, 22). We know from Jacob's comment in verse 2 and from chapter 29 that God is sovereign over the womb. While illustrating much sin, we also see that this chapter is also about fertility. We even see God's sovereign work through what appears to be superstitious thoughts about the power of mandrakes and poplar, almond, and plane trees (boosting fertility, and/or having an effect on the color of the animals). Even when we think we are acting freely from the providence, intentions, and meticulous sovereignty of God, He is still at work. God is working even in this sinful family to create a people for Himself, to bring a Messiah in Jesus Christ, and ultimately to satisfy His wrath so that those of us who turn to Jesus would be saved.

No comments: