Thursday, February 18, 2010

Rachel, Rachel...

Before diving in to the astounding account of the slaughter at Shechem, I want to take a minute to look at the remarkable interactions between Rachel and Leah. I spent a while last time thinking about Leah, feeling for Leah in the situation with Jacob. But I'd like to take a few minutes and consider Rachel. Both women wanted something -- Leah: Jacob's love, and Rachel: children -- and both seem to have been deprived of their desires, at least for a time. Rachel is jealous of her sister's fruitfulness, and Leah is likely jealous of the love that Jacob has for Rachel over her.

Let's consider this childbearing thing a minute: in Genesis 29:31, God's response to the situation is this: "When the LORD saw that Leah was not loved, he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren." By the way, "not loved" in the NIV is "hated" in the KJV, and the Strong's concordance goes so far as to say the word was used of one's enemies. Ouch. But enough of Leah for now -- let's compare 29:31 with 30:1 - "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!'"

I like the way both of these sentences begin similarly: When the LORD saw and When Rachel saw. Isn't is interesting what follows? When God saw what was going on, he opened up Leah's womb. When Rachel saw what was going on, she devised a plan to get what she wanted. She didn't ask God to open her womb. Out of Rachel's jealousy, a plan was made to get Rachel children. This isn't an uncommon practice in the OT - Sarah gave Abraham Hagar, too, and you can go back and see how well that worked out for her! Rachel names her first son by Bilhah "Dan," which means "he has vindicated" -- he has judged her and heard her. The second son by Bilhah is "Naphtali" and about his name, Rachel says, "I have had a great struggle with my sister, and I have won."

Isn't it fascinating how children and childbearing are used to gain favor? Leah is battling through babies for her husband's love, and Rachel is battling through babies to one-up her sister. Neither woman seems to appreciate what she has.

We are jealous, envious, covetous creatures. Gimme gimme gimme!

Can you see and relate to the journey these women are on? As I mentioned previously through "Leah Considers Mercy," just by the names that Leah gives her children you can see growth; you can see her turning her eyes and her heart from the desire to be loved by her husband to the desire to praise God and live in his blessings. "This time, I will praise the LORD," says Leah in Gen. 29:35. And then she stopped having children.

I wish that was it with Leah. I wish she "learned her lesson" or was able to live in that place of acceptance, feeling that mercy, but once Rachel's maidservant starts having babies and Leah stops, the rivalry on Leah's side kicks into full swing. If Rachel's maidservant can have babies, so can Leah's! Zilpah, go on in with my husband, I want to irritate my sister!

What commences is this family battle to see who can have more babies. One thing I appreciated about The Red Tent was the space between children -- I could feel it a little more. The Bible does not go to great lengths to fill in gaps - it just skips the gaps entirely. Then this one was born, then this one was born, then this one was born... it's crazy! Ah, but there are months, years, that pass, and boy, aren't those months and years long when you are trying to conceive.

Which is where we find Rachel in verse 22, "Then God remembered Rachel; he listened to her and opened her womb." Can you imagine your sister bearing six children of her own and all that time, nothing. Even if Leah had those babies one after the other, the least amount of time from first to sixth born is five years. Have you known Rachel's impatience, her grief, her envy, her longing, her despair? In those months and years of longing for the desires of your heart, it feels as if God has forgotten you. So much can be accomplished in the waiting, as painful, confusing, and disappointing as it may be. The Lord is doing a work in that time -- for we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us (Romans 5:3-5).

Those verses from Romans do not necessarily mean that by our suffering, persevering, and character developing that we will get what we wanted at the start. To be remembered by God might not look the way that we had originally planned. Earlier in Romans 5, we are rejoicing in the hope of the glory of God. It isn't the hope for the specifics of our circumstances that is the end result but rather the glorification of God through our circumstances (! - Do you think that's what it is?? I just typed it. I think so, but I'm kind of shocked by it myself!).

I've gone on a long tangent, but before I try to swing it back around, there are two cross-references in my Bible for this verse that I found interesting. The first is Genesis 19:29 in which God remembered Abraham and brought Lot out of the catastrophe that was Sodom and Gomorrah. "God remembered" and seems to extend mercy to Abraham by delivering Lot from the devastation of that city. The second is in 1 Samuel 1:19, "Early the next morning they arose and worshiped the LORD and then went back to their home in Ramah. Elkanah lay with Hannah his wife, and the LORD remembered her." These two scenarios both feature God extending mercy and compassion to the faithful - Abraham in the first and Hannah in the second. The Bible doesn't say anything about what changed in Rachel, or if anything changed in Rachel, but consider this: Rachel had tried to gain boys through her maidservant and then she bargained with Leah over some mandrakes, which was a popular root intended to increase fertility. In spite of her own efforts, Leah had two more sons and then a daughter, named Dinah, and still Rachel bore no children. That's at least two and a half years from mandrake-trade to the birth of Dinah.

When you have tried everything humanly possible to conceive, or to get a job, or to find a spouse, or whatever it is you desire so strongly, and failed to achieve the end results, there are several things that I think happen: we become resigned to our situation. We give in. This can be a positive or a negative thing -- if we are aligning ourselves with God, we succumb to his will in our lives, whatever that may be, and quit trying to force our own ideas or aspirations to occur. If we aren't centered in that way, maybe instead of giving in to God, we just give up. Instead of finding the roadmap of suffering --> perseverance/patience --> character/(a specimen of tried worth) --> hope, our roadmap looks more like suffering --> resignation --> failure --> despair. Hope is the expectation of good. Despair is to be utterly at loss. We just don't know what to do. We're empty. What a contrast!

All of that to say I think that the cross-references to Hannah and Abraham are a hint that maybe God extended mercy to Rachel because she had made the long, arduous journey down the road of suffering and landed in hope. I can be even more confident of this when I read what Rachel named her firstborn son, Joseph, which means "may he add," to which she says, "May the Lord add to me another son." After all that time, all that waiting, do you take her statement as greed or audacious hope? I could be wrong, but I'm gonna go with audacious hope, and give Rachel the benefit of the doubt, Rachel, who is prophesied to weep for her children in Jeremiah 31:15 and referenced again in Matthew 2:18 after the slaughter of the babies in Bethlehem. (I had never read the Jeremiah passage, but I highly recommend taking a look at it - Jer. 31:15-20.) Rachel, to whom God says in Jeremiah, "Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears, for your work will be rewarded... They will return from the land of the enemy. So there is hope for your future... Is not Ephraim my dear son, the child in whom I delight?..." Ephraim is Rachel's grandson by way of Joseph. Audacious hope extends far beyond our immediate circumstances. Audacious hope is for God's glory.

Whew! Anyone make it through all of that?? ;) I am almost afraid to go back and read what I just wrote for fear it makes absolutely no sense. And I still haven't talked about Shechem! Next post! Watch out - I'm on a Bible-study marathon tonight.

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