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Posts Tagged ‘Rachel’

Art by Little-LadyBee

Art by Little-LadyBee

Reuben, eldest son of Jacob and Leah, has quite a sin in his past. There may be scholarly argument about it, but the NIV clearly states that Reuben slept with Bilhah, who was Rachel’s handmaid and concubine to Jacob and who bore two of the twelve tribal leaders of Israel (Jacob). What Reuben did was a slap in the face to his own father, and somehow, I think he intended it. For it was Reuben who also found the mandrakes for his mother (Leah) in hopes of helping her carve a more loving relationship with Jacob. It never happened. Reuben had some issues with his father.

And yet, it was also Reuben who tried to save his brother Joseph and his many-colored coat, despite his father’s favoritism.

When Reuben heard the plan, he tried to help Joseph.
Reuben: Let’s not kill him. We don’t need to shed any blood to be free of him. Let’s just toss him into some pit here in the wilderness. We don’t need to lay a hand on him.
Reuben thought perhaps he could secretly come back later and get Joseph out of the pit and take him home to their father before any more harm came to him.  The brothers agreed. [Genesis 32:21-22, The Voice]

Reuben had a bit of righteous indignation, whether toward his father, for the way he treated Leah or, in this case, about the impulsive decision of his brothers to kill Joseph. And yet, whether for good or for ill, Reuben was blinded by his own point of view.

This is a good warning for me. It’s a good warning for us all.

hero or villainWe have all sinned or made bad judgments/decisions along the way. That doesn’t mean we can’t choose rightly today or do a courageous and honorable thing. That thing in our past does work to keep us humble. And that’s not a bad thing really.

The hero act does not erase the past but it does give hope that we can change. All have a potential for good. But we must also take care how we view others: villain or hero?

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mandrakeIn case you don’t know the story, mandrakes supposedly have fertility enhancing properties (along with possible euphoria and hallucinations). All the same, Reuben, oldest son of Leah (the wife Jacob didn’t want), finds some in a field and he gives them to Mama Leah to use on Jacob (knowing of her longing to be loved by the man who wouldn’t or couldn’t care less). Rachel (the sister that Jacob did love but who was barren) makes a deal with sister Leah: give me the mandrakes and I’ll “let” you have another go at the man. Great story for “sister-wives;” they should be on TV.

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.God listened to Leah, and she became pregnant and bore Jacob a fifth son.Leah conceived again and bore Jacob a sixth son. Then Leah said, “God has presented me with a precious gift. This time my husband will treat me with honor, because I have borne him six sons.” [Genesis 30:16-20, NIV]

Of course, it didn’t work. Despite Leah having her own babies again, those two more sons (and a daughter – Dinah – barely worth mentioning), only later that did Rachel have a child and apparently, not from the power of the mandrake root.

These women were operating in a world of baby competition. Children were essential to the future of the family, and in particular, to the woman in a household. And, with the promises of God doled out to the line of Jacob, these women were the brokers of their husband’s descendants. In the end, Rachel only produced two of the patriarchs of the twelve tribes, her maidservant Bilhah birthed two sons, Leah birthed six sons, and Leah’s maidservant Zilpah also birthed two sons. And yet, despite the numbers being on Leah’s side, Jacob never did come around, and loved Rachel’s boys (Joseph – famed for the multi-colored dreamcoat and Benjamin) the most, playing favorites throughout their lives.

tribemapIt’s not like Leah’s boys weren’t important in their own right: Judah’s birthright, for instance, was foundational to the Jewish nation or Levi, whose descendants ruled the Temple and interceded with God as priests. They were all on the map.

Each son had his own future and each child born had a destiny.

The mandrakes were a tool that two women tried to use to manipulate their futures, their love lives, and their progeny. It didn’t work; it doesn’t work today either.

As the mother of three adopted children and no biological children, I know the mandrake game. I tried the same thing. I could not fathom that God would actually put two Christian people together and not create offspring from them. I became a sort of Rachel, trying all kinds of tests and suggestions to make babies happen. But God doesn’t act from my mandrakes or my plans. God is sovereign.

in this houseEven when our story changed and we adopted children, I tried to control their outcomes. Oh, I know, it was all in the name of giving them the best, giving them opportunities I never had, building arenas of success, layering on the expectations. I am ashamed to confess these things for my plans created many disappointments. But, my disappointments were self-inflicted. My plans were not God’s plans [Isaiah 55:8].

My children are still God’s masterpieces [Ephesians 2:10, NLT]. And my job should have been to plow the ground and provide nutrients, but allow them to grow into themselves, into the people God intended.

Forgive me for the mandrakes in my life, Lord. And do what you will with our children, now young adults, looking for a way. Perhaps the road could have been easier if I hadn’t littered it with so many calculations.

But, just like Rachel & Leah, the one thing I gave without mitigation was my love. And I am thankful that love covers a multitude of sins [I Peter 4:8].

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Art by Luba Lukova

Art by Luba Lukova

Rachel and Leah, coming from a culture in which the role of women was clearly defined, needed children to show their worth. It was their children that gave them place in their small world. And yet, Leah wanted that one other thing, that intangible thing called love.

Genesis 30:19-20
Leah conceived again and bore Jacob a sixth son. Then Leah said, “God has presented me with a precious gift. This time my husband will treat me with honor, because I have borne him six sons.”

Leah’s resources were few: she was not the beauty like her sister, she was the oldest and she was married by her father’s trickery. She was, if anything, an embarrassment. She had already born four sons and still, her husband favored Rachel. How could that be? Rachel was barren and yet Jacob loved her.

When Leah’s womb stopped bearing children, she must have been devastated. More than likely, Jacob limited his time wither her sexually as well. She had been more of a production machine. He appreciated the growth in his family and community, no doubt, but not for love. Even when the sisters gave him their maidservants, these arrangements were all about fruitfulness, not love. Jacob had been entranced by Rachel from the beginning. He was fixed on her and nothing Leah could do to change that. And yet she kept trying.

Leah is like so many young women today who mold themselves by the reflection they see in the eyes of men. Women often go to great extremes to create a picture of beauty they imagine men want to see. They craft their public personas to be appealing. They read magazines and books, take surveys and spend great amounts of money on surface improvements, to attract the male. Women do all they can to appear younger as long as possible since society has nurtured the idea that older women are no longer sexy or appealing. In the eyes of many men, women have two stages: young and seductive or motherly and caregiving.

How often are marriages destroyed by a man’s lust for someone younger, suppler, and carefree?

But I say only this. We cannot make any of them love us.

God commands us to love unconditionally. There is no promise of reciprocity. There is no promise of reward.

Some claim that it is most difficult to love our enemies. But I say, it is most difficult to love someone who has stopped loving us.

In this place, resentments are always at the edges of every conversation; disappointment waves like a flag for attention; togetherness feels like aloneness.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.Love never fails. [I Corinthians 13:4-8a]

God loved me in this way. God loved me before I loved back. God would not “make me” love. God loved. And over time, consistency and faithfulness won. Only, through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, can I love in this way. Only the Christ within can love like that.

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orphan babyI can certainly relate to little Prissy in Gone with the Wind who says, “”I don’t know nothin’ ’bout birthin’ babies!” I don’t either, not really. Having built our family through adoption, this aspect of womanhood has eluded me. And yet I know, there is potential for great mystery and anguish; joy and sorrow.

Genesis 29:31, 33a, 34a, 35a
When the Lord saw that Leah was not loved, he enabled her to conceive, but Rachel remained childless. . . . She [Leah] conceived again . . . Again she conceived . . . She conceived again . . .

In the example of Rachel and Leah, it is the unlovely and cast-off sister whose womb is opened from the beginning and she bears four boys in a row while her sister remains barren. Each child’s name is a message to Jacob (who isn’t listening):

  • Reuben could be translated to mean, “see my misery” or “see, a son!” (as in look, pay attention)
  • Simeon means “one who hears” referring to God who heard her prayers, perhaps Jacob would too?
  • Levi could be translated to mean “attached,” in a way that Leah had hoped Jacob would finally attach to her as the mother of his sons.
  • Judah could be translated as “praise” which appears to be her final understanding, that children are about God, not man.

I discovered, after many years of tears, that my inability to bear children had to be accepted as a reality before reality could change. Once I could thank God for who I was and our circumstances, we could move on to adoption and discover the family God intended.

You would think, after the debacle of Sarah and Hagar (surely that story was told through the generations), the women would know that God’s timing was God’s alone and could not niggled with. But they did not. One sister thought the births would change Jacob’s heart and he would finally “love” her while the other wife resented her sister’s fruitfulness. But nothing good comes from resentment or jealousy or envy. . . ever.

Women have not learned much through the ages, I’m afraid. There are still women who intentionally invite pregnancy as a solution to  their problems (perhaps that boyfriend will marry her or that husband will stay closer to home). There are women who see pregnancy as a curse and continually interrupt that cycle through abortion and morning after pills. There are women who have babies without thought to the impact of that child on their finances and futures; there are women who bring children into the world in hopes the grown child will for the mother in her old age. And now, there are even surrogate mothers, who carry a child for someone else or women who defy nature somewhat by artificially inseminating a child or taking hormones to increase their chances of birth and unwittingly produce litters of babies.

I am not casting judgment, not really, but it’s all a bit out of hand. Just as there are pets languishing in shelters, there are unwanted children in foster care and orphanages all over the world.

They are the responsibility of us all.

Yesterday, the Russian government, once again (for this is not the first time) has placed into law a ban on Americans adopting Russian children. This was a strictly political move and shows little concern for the children themselves. When we adopted our daughter from St. Petersburg in 2006, her orphanage alone had over 150 children and it is only one of thousands of orphanages in the country. In the United States, in 2011, there were over 401,000 children in foster care, many of whom could be adopted.

Babies are amazing, no doubt. Making babies can be an act of true love. But we must remember, there is a future to every child born that must be embraced by all of society, no matter their color or race, their health or disability. A child born is part of the family of God.

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