Tuesday 9th June 2020 The rest of the tribe
from Genesis 30
When Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, she envied her sister; and she said to Jacob, ‘Give me children, or I shall die!’ Jacob became very angry with Rachel and said, ‘Am I in the place of God, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?’ Then she said, ‘Here is my maid Bilhah; go in to her, that she may bear upon my knees and that I too may have children through her.’ So she gave him her maid Bilhah as a wife; and Jacob went in to her. And Bilhah conceived and bore Jacob a son. Then Rachel said, ‘God has judged me, and has also heard my voice and given me a son’; therefore she named him Dan. Rachel’s maid Bilhah conceived again and bore Jacob a second son. Then Rachel said, ‘With mighty wrestlings I have wrestled with my sister, and have prevailed’; so she named him Naphtali.
When Leah saw that she had ceased bearing children, she took her maid Zilpah and gave her to Jacob as a wife. Then Leah’s maid Zilpah bore Jacob a son. And Leah said, ‘Good fortune!’ so she named him Gad. Leah’s maid Zilpah bore Jacob a second son. And Leah said, ‘Happy am I! For the women will call me happy’; so she named him Asher.
…When Jacob came from the field in the evening, Leah went out to meet him, and said, ‘You must come in to me; …So he lay with her that night. And God heeded Leah, and she conceived and bore Jacob a fifth son. Leah said, ‘God has given me my hire because I gave my maid to my husband’; so she named him Issachar. And Leah conceived again, and she bore Jacob a sixth son. Then Leah said, ‘God has endowed me with a good dowry; now my husband will honour me, because I have borne him six sons’; so she named him Zebulun. Afterwards she bore a daughter, and named her Dinah.
Then God remembered Rachel, and God heeded her and opened her womb. She conceived and bore a son, and said, ‘God has taken away my reproach’; and she named him Joseph, saying, ‘May the Lord add to me another son!’
More babies than an episode of Call the Midwife in this collection of birth announcements of Jacob’s children! What can we learn from this story of heartfelt emotions over many years within difficult relationships, the experiences of the sisters, and their voiceless servants acting as surrogate mothers?
Leah and Rachel are forced into a toxic situation and conflict is inevitable. There is always potential for harm in multiple relationships. Polygamy might be seen as putting the man in charge of female sexuality: however in this passage we see the sisters manipulating the situation, directing Jacob in order to further their own aims of bearing sons, and in competition for his affection and their individual status and happiness.
Although there are many stories of polygamy in the Old Testament, culminating in Solomon with his hundreds of wives and concubines, it seem clear from Genesis that monogamy is God’s intent: ‘a man shall leave his parents and cleave to his wife and the two shall become one flesh’. By the end of Old Testament history this is being emphasised again as in Malachi 2 the idea of covenantal monogamy becomes the norm. Paul sees the relationship between Christ and the Church as a marriage: a lifelong loving commitment between two individuals.
We could compare Rachel’s story with other examples of infertility in the Bible and their resolution: this is not the only story in which deception and guile plays a part. Rachel eventually is blessed with bearing sons fathered by her husband, as ‘God remembered Rachel’. Both Leah and Rachel clearly believed that children were a gift from the Lord who said ‘Go forth and multiply’. We too can identify with seeing children as a blessing from the Lord, even if in today’s crowded world smaller families are preferable.
God of compassion,
God of loving relationships,
strengthen us in our daily living
that in joy and in sorrow
we may know the power of your presence
to bind together and to heal;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Based on a prayer at