IIT UBF - University Bible Fellowship at IIT






Date: Sep. 16, 2018

Author: Dan Bockenfeld

Genesis 29:31-30:24

Key Verse: Genesis 29:35

She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said, “This time I will praise the Lord.” So she named him Judah. Then she stopped having children.

Today, I have a question for you. What have you wanted more than anything? When you were a kid, it may have been a toy or a trip to someplace. You might be wanting to get a good grade on your exams or get a good job that pays well. You might be wanting your family to grow or become more close-knit. You might just be wanting a good, home-cooked meal. The thing is that many times we think that the things we want most will satisfy us, that they will fill us up and make us whole. We think that if we only have more money or more knowledge or more time or fewer problems then we would be so much better. But is that really the case? Is the solution to all life’s problems getting what you want? Today, we have two sisters Leah and Rachel who are both married to Jacob. They both had wants, desires and needs, but they could never find satisfaction in those very things.

In the last passage, Jacob arrived in Paddan Aram and found Laban, his uncle. He was working for him, and Laban asked Jacob what his wages should be. Now, this is a dangerous question, as anyone who’s had an interview knows. It’s a test to see how valuable you think you are. Jacob was in love with Laban’s younger daughter Rachel. So, Jacob said that he would work seven years to marry her. And those years were like days to Jacob. When the seven years were up, Jacob wanted to marry his wife, but when the time came, Laban did the bait-and-switch and secretly gave Leah, Laban’s older daughter, to Jacob as a wife and he didn’t realize it until the next morning. He was furious at Laban. Jacob wanted to marry the pretty daughter, not the one with weak eyes. So, the deal was modified. Jacob would finish out the bridal week and get Rachel, too, for another seven years of work. So, Jacob would have two wives, who were sisters. After his marriage with Rachel, Jacob preferred Rachel and loved her more than her sister.

This disparity of love did not go unnoticed. Our passage begins, “When the Lord saw that Leah was not loved, he enabled her to conceive, but Rachel remained childless.” (29:31) Leah didn’t receive much love from Jacob. When the Lord saw this, he wanted to help out some. Now, in their time, the greatest honor a woman could have was to have children for her husband. Since, the Lord saw that Leah was not loved, he enabled her to conceive. He gave her the honor, but Rachel remained childless. The passage continues, “Leah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Reuben, for she said, ‘It is because the Lord has seen my misery. Surely my husband will love me now.’” (29:32) Leah had a son and she named him Reuben, not because she wanted a sandwich. The name Reuben means, “see, a son”, but it sounds like the Hebrew for, “he has seen my misery”. Leah acknowledged the Lord, in that he saw her misery, but her focus was still on her husband. She had hoped that Jacob would love her now because she had borne him a son, Reuben.

Unfortunately, Reuben wasn’t enough. Leah had more sons and their names are very indicative of Leah’s heart at the time. “She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said, ‘Because the Lord heard that I am not loved, he gave me this one too.’ So she named him Simeon.” (29:33) The second son’s name was Simeon, which means “one who hears”. Leah was still focused on her situation and hoped that her children would help fill the void of love that she had. Either their love would be enough, or their existence would cause Jacob to love her. This is evident in the third son’s name, as well. “Again she conceived, and when she gave birth to a son she said, ‘Now at last my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.’ So he was named Levi.” (29:34) Here, Levi’s name sounds like the word “attached”. Leah hoped that her husband would gravitate to her side. She had given him three sons, while Rachel gave him none. Leah was more fertile than her sister. That meant, in her mind, that she was the one that deserved more love. But, again, it didn’t help anything. She received no more love than before.

“She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said, ‘This time I will praise the Lord.’ So she named him Judah. Then she stopped having children.” (29:35) The circumstances around the fourth son were a little different. There is no mention of her misery or not being loved or even Jacob. She simply says that she will praise the Lord. This is a marked difference from the other three sons. In her words, she was not expecting anything from her husband, but raised her hands in worship to the Lord. Her praise was done in thanksgiving to God. She finally recognized what the Lord had done for her and simply praised him. Her lack of love was still very real, but the love she received from God brought a level of satisfaction to her, at least, for a time.

While all this was going on, Rachel was getting furious. She was beside herself. Her sister was having son after son and she was childless. “When Rachel saw that she was not bearing Jacob any children, she became jealous of her sister. So she said to Jacob, ‘Give me children, or I’ll die!’” (30:1) Rachel was jealous of her sister. Leah had four kids, four sons, while she had none. She even blamed Jacob for not having children. It was as if she thought Jacob was withholding something. He had impregnated Leah four times. He must have been holding back on Rachel. It kind of reminds me of a story I heard about a woman who was upset at her husband. You see, she had a dream that her husband was cheating on her, but she proceeded to treat her husband as if he actually had been cheating on her. The husband didn’t do a thing, but she dreamt he did. It was all her dream, but he paid the price for her dreams. Jacob got angry with Rachel and said, “Am I in the place of God, who has kept you from having children?” (30:2) Jacob rightfully recognized that God is in charge of opening Rachel’s womb. Her anger was directed at Jacob, but God is the one who has a say in childbearing.

Unfortunately, instead of listening to her husband and coming to God about her problem, she took matters into her own hands. “Then she said, ‘Here is Bilhah, my servant. Sleep with her so that she can bear children for me and I too can build a family through her.’” (30:3) This sounds very familiar. It sounds exactly like what Sarah did with Hagar. Sarah couldn’t have children, so he decided to use her servant Hagar as a surrogate. Abraham slept with Hagar and she became pregnant. Here Rachel decides to get Jacob to sleep with her servant Bilhah. By using her servant, Rachel would become a mother. She would essentially adopt the child as her own. Rachel wasn’t following Sarah in this way. What they were doing was a pretty common practice in those days. If the wife was unable to conceive, then the wife would find a surrogate from one of the servants and adopt the child as her own.

The passage continues, “So she gave him her servant Bilhah as a wife. Jacob slept with her, and she became pregnant and bore him a son. Then Rachel said, ‘God has vindicated me; he has listened to my plea and given me a son.’ Because of this she named him Dan.” (30-4-6) Rachel starts the naming process and does it like her sister. She is the one who named the son, not Bilhah. This shows the surrogacy and Rachel’s adoption of the child. The name Dan means, “he has vindicated”. With the birth of Dan, Rachel found fulfillment and a removal of shame because she had given her servant to her husband.

But Dan wouldn’t be the only son from Bilhah. “Rachel’s servant Bilhah conceived again and bore Jacob a second son. Then Rachel said, ‘I have had a great struggle with my sister, and I have won.’ So she named him Naphtali.” (30:7-8) This time, Rachel named the boy Naphtali, which means, “my struggle”. Rachel was trying to catch up to Leah in terms of sons. It was a struggle for her. It was like a war between the sisters. With Naphtali, Rachel felt victorious over her sister, but to me, I have no idea of what she is thinking. How is she victorious? Her sister has four sons at this point, while Rachel has two by her servant. Rachel had the love of her husband, but it wasn’t enough for her. She thought that Jacob didn’t love her as much as he could because she couldn’t bear Jacob any kids. With Bilhah’s sons, Rachel felt some relief from her disgrace, but it really wasn’t enough.

When Leah saw what her sister was doing and realized what she was no longer having children, she decided to join her sister. “When Leah saw that she had stopped having children, she took her servant Zilpah and gave her to Jacob as a wife.” (30:10) Even though, Leah had four sons, it wasn’t enough. She did exactly the same thing as her sister. She told Jacob to sleep with her servant. With Judah, Lean praised the Lord, but now she was going back to her struggle with her sister. When Zilpah became pregnant, she had a son, too, and Leah named the child Gad, which means good fortune. Leah saw the son borne to Zilpah as vindication that she was doing the right thing, but it was just escalation in this domestic war.

Zilpah became pregnant again and gave birth to another son, that Leah named Asher, which means happy. She was filled with joy at these both boys’ births. Her lead over Rachel widened, but it still wasn’t enough. Both Rachel and Leah were not satisfied with what they had. Leah wanted love from her husband. She had four sons, herself and two more through her servant. She thought that those sons would bring Jacob closer to her, but they didn’t. The situation did not change one bit. Rachel wanted children but could not have any. Having children was a sign of God’s blessing in a woman’s life. No children meant that the woman would have felt a tremendous amount of shame. So even, though she had her husband’s love and was beautiful, Rachel was not satisfied. She wanted more. They each wanted what the other had, but they could not see that the other sister was not satisfied with what they had. So, the war continued to escalate.

The passage continues, “During wheat harvest, Reuben went out into the fields and found some mandrake plants, which he brought to his mother Leah. Rachel said to Leah, ‘Please give me some of your son’s mandrakes.’” (30:14) This is where the passage gets a little weird. Reuben went out to the fields during one of the harvest times. While he was out there, he found some mandrake plants. I find it interesting that he didn’t bring them to his father, but to his mother Leah. This showed the growing influence she had in the family. Rachel found out about the mandrakes and asked Leah to give her some. Now, why in the world would Rachel want mandrakes? It is so weird to me. It is not really sure what type of mandrake this was, but the most common mandrake was a part of the nightshade, potato and tomato family. The fruit produced from this plant was about the size of a plum and had some hallucinogenic properties, but the roots were particularly interesting. The roots of the mandrake resembled the lower part of a person and were considered an important part of woman’s fertility. By consuming the roots, a woman was believed to be able to get pregnant. Rachel was becoming superstitious about having a kid, and she wanted those mandrakes.

But Leah didn’t want to give them up. “But she said to her, ‘Wasn’t it enough that you took away my husband? Will you take my son’s mandrakes too?’” (30:15) Leah was very bitter about Rachel becoming Jacob’s wife. Leah was Jacob’s wife first and Rachel joined in a week later. Leah was there first, but Rachel came in and stole all of Jacob’s love for herself. Now, she wanted to take something from her son. Leah was very bitter and hurt. She viewed her sister as the source of all her problems, but honestly, it wasn’t Rachel’s fault. Jacob wanted to marry Rachel, but their Laban switched Rachel out at the last minute. Laban was responsible for creating the current situation, but Leah and Rachel held animosity for each other.

Rachel decided to bargain for the mandrakes. “‘Very well,’ Rachel said, ‘he can sleep with you tonight in return for your son’s mandrakes.’” (30:15) Rachel began to bargain by using Jacob as a bargaining tool. My guess is that since Jacob had been sleeping with Bilhah and Zilpah, there was very little time for him to sleep with Leah. She probably became the bottom of the rotation and didn’t spend that much time with Jacob. It was hard enough competing with Rachel for Jacob’s affection, but now she also had to compete with two servants who became concubines. But with the mandrake, Leah would have time with Jacob, so she agreed to give some mandrakes to Rachel.

Jacob had no idea that this was going on. “So when Jacob came in from the fields that evening, Leah went out to meet him. ‘You must sleep with me,’ she said. ‘I have hired you with my son’s mandrakes.’ So he slept with her that night.” (30:16) When Jacob came home, Leah went out to meet him. She wanted to make sure that Jacob knew what was going on. He wasn’t to see any of the other women. He was hired through mandrakes and had to sleep with her that night. Leah was very forceful about it and used the word “must”. Jacob just listened and followed through. He slept with Leah that night. It was a weird matter-of-fact matter. Jacob was now hired for sex. He was lent out like a piece of property.

That night was productive for Leah. She got pregnant again.”God listened to Leah, and she became pregnant and bore Jacob a fifth son. Then Leah said, ‘God has rewarded me for giving my servant to my husband.’ So she named him Issachar.” (30:17-18) God saw and listened to Leah. He saw her misery and opened her womb once again, but Leah was a little warped in her thinking. She thought that God was rewarding her for giving her servant to her husband. I don’t know how she would make that connection. “It must be God’s will for me to do something so weird because I benefitted from it.” Just because you benefit, doesn’t mean that it is God’s will. His plan could be completely different. God’s plans usually involve bringing people back to him and giving Zilpah to Jacob doesn’t seem to accomplish that.

After Issachar was born, Leah became pregnant again with a sixth son. Jacob would eventually have twelve sons and half of them were borne to Leah. From Rachel’s perspective, there would be a lot of love there, but Leah still never felt love from Jacob no matter how many sons she had with him. Leah also had a daughter Dinah, but never felt love from her husband. She was a lonely woman who had more than most women had, but never the thing she wanted the most.

After many years, Rachel too became pregnant. “Then God remembered Rachel; he listened to her and enabled her to conceive. She became pregnant and gave birth to a son and said, ‘God has taken away my disgrace.’ She named him Joseph, and said, ‘May the Lord add to me another son.’” (30:22-24) It says that God remembered Rachel. She was never lost to God’s eyes and he allowed her to have children. He had taken away her disgrace, but the name she chose for her son was Joseph, which means “to add”. She asked God for another son. Her first son was named “give me another son”. Even with one son and her disgrace taken away, Rachel was not satisfied with what she had. It looked like she had everything, but it wasn’t enough. Years later, Rachel would be given another son, but she would die in childbirth and her desire literally led to her death.

This passage is again so messed up. Jacob’s family life was just so messed up. His wives were thirsty for love and vindication. The both sought after his affection and thought that by having it, it would be enough for them. But you can see in this passage, they were never satisfied. They tried different things to get his love and the type of love they wanted, but nothing ever made them whole. You see in these women something that many women go through. Many women go through life seeking the approval and love of a man. It gets many women to do whatever they can to feel even a little bit of love from a boyfriend or husband. They tolerate so much for a glimpse of fulfilment. They might think that if they just had a little bit of the type of love they want, they will be fine. Now, a husband should love their wife with everything he has, but the hole that is felt was never meant to be filled by a man, because every man is imperfect. No matter how much love a man could give, no matter how perfect a man he could be, he would never satisfy completely. The woman would always need more. The void of love is supposed to be filled with God and not a man.

It’s not just women. I am not a woman, but I have a void inside myself that I so want to have filled. We all have a missing piece that makes us feel so empty. We fill it with anything we can hoping we will finally be satisfied. We seek money, fame, love, sex, pleasure and companionship in hope that one day we will be full. Unfortunately, we know that will never happen. Our society is filled with distractions helping us to ignore the hole. People drink to forget. They try to cope by using drugs or feeling thrills. We try to deaden the pain, but what we need is the right puzzle piece to complete our lives. The apostle Paul once wrote, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:12-13) Paul learned the secret of being content in in any and every situation. Paul was a man that new hard times, but those things didn’t bother him. He didn’t let his situation dictate his response. He was content in every situation because God was with him and strengthened him.

We are able to find strength in God because we have Jesus. From which one of these twelve sons of Jacob did Jesus come? Jesus is not descended from Joseph. He comes from Judah, the only son whose birth caused praise to the Lord. Judah would not be a good man for a while, but it is through his lineage that we find salvation through Jesus. We find fulfillment. We find the way back to God because of Leah and God’s love for her. She was not loved by Jacob, but God loved her so much that he used her to show his love to the whole world. The love that God had for Leah exists for each and every one of us through Jesus. Jesus came to free us from our doubt. He came to forgive us for seeking after the things of this world and give us an opportunity to return to God. He loved us so much that he died for us. He died so that we could have that opportunity, and he returned from death to give us a new life.

In our humanity, we know that nothing on this earth will satisfy us, but then we blame ourselves or blame others. We listen to the words in our head that say that we will never be good enough. We listen to others and dream of the perfect life that we see that others have on Facebook and Instagram, but what social media shows is just a façade. It is a curate life, whereas the truth is that everyone on social media is in the same boat as you. They have no fulfillment or satisfaction and are searching for it. Leah and Rachel had what each other wanted, but it never satisfied them. Both were so perfect in the other’s eyes, but they hated each other for it. Their family was breaking because of their jealousy. But we have to listen to who God says we are. We have to accept that it is God who fills us. We have to find our identity in him because his love for us is all we need. He says that we are loved, and we must believe it. We want to belong, and we want to be strong. No matter what we think or what we feel, we have to believe what God tells us. We are forgiven. We are strong. We belong all because of Jesus. The new life is ours because Jesus died and returned to life. Jesus loves you and that is all we need.

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Daily Bread

Prepare the Way for the Lord

Luke 3:1-20

Key Verse: 3:4

As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet,

  “The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
  ‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
    make his paths straight.

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Intro Daily