GENESIS 29 and 30
On arriving at his uncle’s household, Jacob meets Rachel, falls passionately in love with her, rapidly makes his feelings for her known and negotiates a dowry payment with her father… of seven years hard labour! At the end of seven years Laban manages to pull off what no-one else has yet done – to deceive the Deceiver – and forces Jacob to move to a ‘2 for the price of 2’ wife-payment plan!
And then God decides to teach Jacob a further lesson by giving all the babies to the wife he doesn’t love. The Lord may shower us with unmerited blessings, but he certainly does discipline and sometimes punish his children because he loves us so much; he loves us exactly as we are – but loves us too much to let us remain exactly as we are! (Revelation 3:19; Hebrews 12:4-11.)
Since Rachel was barren, she became insanely jealous of her sister, Leah, who had already borne four children to Jacob. See Genesis 31 onwards. It also becomes clear, later, that Rachel was filled with superstition and prone to idol worship. But infertility can make a woman desperate and willing to try anything or do anything. Day by day, month by month, Rachel’s fear of the passage of time was confirmed and reinforced; Jacob obviously had had enough of listening to her complaints and probably dreaded the onset of each new lunar month. He recognised that the only source of healing and blessing was in the Lord of Time – although Rachel had other plans: “Take my maidservant as a wife and get some children for me from her then!” – you can imagine her screaming in frustration. Jacob duly obliged, as did Bilhah, and shortly there appeared Dan and Naphtali. The right result, by the wrong methods!
Not to be outdone, in sinister sisterly rivalry, Leah gave her maidservant, Zilpah, to Jacob – who must by now have thought it was Christmas all over again! – and a couple more sons popped out. Even though Leah had stopped having children for quite some while, even SHE became pregnant at least three more times; the local midwives must have been exhausted! Finally, we arrive at three words that mattered most: “God remembered Rachel” and by his grace he removed her dis-grace forever! We ALL need his grace to remove our disgrace too! Interesting, too, that from within a quite appalling marital set-up, God worked to produce a great dynasty and a mighty nation, in order to fulfil his promise to Abraham, his friend. How much more will we see blessing if we first commit our marriages to the Lord and to submit them to his ways and values!
Jacob is then persuaded by Laban to work for six more years, in order to build up his own wealth, and agrees a bizarre method of payment based on sheep and goat coat colours – anything not the usual pure white (sheep) or pure black (goat) was regarded as Jacob’s. Laban, who seemingly had a good grasp of the principles of genetics and statistics, agreed willingly, with shekel signs in his eyes! Yet, this time, God did not allow Jacob to be deceived or defrauded and made sure that regardless of Laban’s new wage definition of the week, Jacob come out with a hefty profit. “In all things, God works for good for those who love him…”