In chapter 28 we read how the Lord revealed himself to Jacob in a dream and promised to be with him and to watch over him wherever he went. The Lord promised never to leave Jacob.
Well, in last week’s passage, the name of the Lord was not mentioned, not even once. However, it was easy enough for us to see the hand of the Lord in the events in the first half of last week’s passage. When we read how Jacob arrived at the right place at the right time to meet his future wife, we can say:
Yes, the Lord was with him to help him on that occasion. The Lord led him to the right place at the right time.
But what about when Laban, his uncle, deceived Jacob? Do you remember? Laban deceived him into marrying the wrong sister. And Laban deceived him into working for him for not seven years only, but for 14 years. Well, when that happened to him, perhaps Jacob might have wondered if the Lord was really with him. He might have wondered whether the Lord really loved him and was really watching over him for his good. And that’s what we think, isn’t it? When troubles come and bad things happen to us, we wonder whether the Lord is really with us, and does he really love me, and is he really watching over me? And the Devil comes along and tempts us to think:
God doesn’t love you. If God loved you, he wouldn’t let this kind of thing happen to you.
But, of course, the Bible teaches us to believe that the Lord is God and he rules over all things. And he’s able to work through all the bad things that happen to us as well as the good things that happen to us, in order to do us good and in order to accomplish his purposes. And so, God was at work in Jacob’s life, to humble him and to make him holy. And God was at work in Jacob’s life to ensure that he married Leah who would give birth to Judah. And from Judah’s line, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world, would one day come.
So, if you’re a believer, a member of God’s family, you mustn’t listen to the Devil when he tempts you to think that God has abandoned you or that God doesn’t care about you, or that God hates you. If you’re a believer, then God has set his steadfast love upon you; and his steadfast love is from everlasting to everlasting. And even though troubles and trials and sorrows and hardships may come into your life, the Lord is still with you, working out his purposes through those trials. So, we ought always to trust in him and to believe that he’s going to work out all things that happen to us for our good and his glory.
Well, recently I’ve been meeting with Michele and Stuart to help them prepare for their marriage in September. And really all I do with engaged couples to help them prepare for marriage is to go through what the Bible says to us about marriage. And, of course, it all begins at the beginning when God created Adam. Do you remember? The Lord said that it wasn’t good for the man to be on his own. And so the Lord created Eve to be a suitable helper for the man. And he brought Eve to the man. And Adam said:
This is now bone of my bones; and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman’ for she was taken out of man.
And then we read:
For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.
And from this, we see that marriage was God’s idea. He gave us marriage in the beginning. And marriage is between a man and a woman who are to be united together in such a way that it’s as if they have become one flesh. So, it’s an intimate union and it’s a permanent union and it’s between a man and a woman.
However, when Adam disobeyed the Lord’s clear command not to eat the forbidden fruit, he and all his descendants after him fell into a state of sin and misery. And every day we feel the consequences of that, because every day we sin against one another in all kinds of ways; and every day we experience the misery of this troubled life in all kinds of ways. And so, in our marriage preparation class, we go through the Bible and see some of the ways our fall into sin and misery affects marriage. And the passage before us this evening gives us a very clear idea of how marriage has been spoiled spoiled by our fall into sin and misery.
You see, there’s the misery that Leah felt because she was unloved by her husband. And there’s the misery Rachel felt because she was barren. One of them desperately wanted to be loved. The other desperately wanted to have children. Both of them had something the other wanted, but did not have. And so every day, they knew by experience what it means for us to live in a fallen world.
But there’s also their sin. God’s intention for marriage was that it should be between one man and one woman, and yet Jacob ended up with two wives and two concubines. And then there’s their jealousy: Leah jealous of her sister because Rachel was loved; Rachel jealous of her sister because Leah had children. And then there’s the way Leah and Rachel treat Jacob, buying and selling him and treating him the way a farmer might treat his prize bull.
We read this passage and we see the consequences of the fall and all the sin and misery which we suffer every day, because though our lives may not be as messy as Jacob’s life was, nevertheless we know that our lives are spoiled by sin and misery in so many different ways every day. And this is true whether we’re married or single, or whether we have a family or we don’t. Whoever lives in this fallen world knows something of the sin and misery which we see in today’s passage and which is all around us and it’s in us.
But, of course, it makes us yearn, doesn’t it? It makes us yearn for the Lord’s help to sanctify us so that we’re able to resist sin more and more. And it makes us yearn for the Lord’s help to comfort us and to re-assure us because of the sorrows we face. And, of course, it makes us yearn for the Lord’s return, because we believe that when he returns, he’ll glorify his believing people and he’ll bring us into the new heavens and the new earth where there will be no more sin and there will be no more misery, but perfect peace and rest. So, we read a passage like this one and it highlights our sin and our misery. And it makes us long for the time when all things will be made new.
So, let’s look at this passage together. And it can be divided into three sections: First of all, there’s verses 31 to 35 where we read how the Lord enabled Leah to have children. Then there’s verses 1 to 13 of chapter 30 where we read how Leah and Rachel battled it out for children, using their servants as surrogate mothers. And then there’s verses 14 to 24 where we read that both Leah and Rachel were enabled to have children. Those are the three main sections and in each section four children are born. Four sons by Leah in the first section. Four sons by Bilhah and Zilpah in the second section. Then three sons and one daughter by Leah and Rachel in the third section. And we’ll go through those three sections now.
Verses 31 to 35
And so, there’s verses 31 to 35 of chapter 29. And look how this section opens:
When the Lord saw that Leah was not loved, he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren.
That sets up for us the misery which both wives suffered. One — Rachel — was loved, but she suffered the frustration and the shame (in those days) of being unable to bear any children. But the other wife — Leah — had her own misery to deal with because she was not loved.
And who knows? Perhaps there’s someone here today who knows what Leah was going through, because you too are in a relationship where you feel that you are not loved. And even though you try everything you can to be loved, nevertheless, nothing you do seems to make any difference and you remain feeling unloved and unwanted and unwelcome. So, perhaps there’s someone here today and you know exactly what Leah was going through.
But even if you’re not going through what Leah was going through, I’m sure most of us can imagine what it must have been like for her, and the sadness she felt every day whenever she saw how much Jacob loved Rachel and she so desperately wanted the same love for herself.
But look at this: though Jacob may have been unaware of Leah and though he may not have noticed her sorrow and sadness, the Lord noticed it. Look again at verse 31:
When the Lord saw that Leah was unloved….
The Lord saw what she was going through. And we all ought to be encouraged by those words, because no matter what you’re going through, no matter what sorrow is in your heart, and no matter what struggles you face every day, the Lord sees it. Just as he saw Leah’s misery, so he sees your misery. These things are not hidden from him. He’s not unaware of the sorrow hidden in your heart which no one else can see. He’s sees it all and he knows it all. And more than that: He’s able to do something about it. And on this occasion, when he saw that Leah was unloved, he opened her womb so that she was able to bear not one, not two, not three, but four sons.
And look what what she says in verse 32, after she gave birth to her firstborn son, Reuben. She said:
It is because the Lord has seen my misery.
This tells us that Leah was a believer. How does this tell us that Leah was a believer? Well, she uses the Lord’s special name, which appears in our NIV Bibles as ‘LORD’ in capital letters. It’s the Lord’s covenant name, which speaks to us of his relationship to us, and of our relationship to him. Leah doesn’t regard him as any old god, but as the covenant God who has promised to love me and to look after me and who is committed to me, so that I can always trust in him. And so, after her first son is born, she confesses that her son is a gift from the Lord her God who has seen her misery and who has bent down from heaven to help her.
And look at her words in verse 33 after her second son is born. She said:
Because the Lord heard that I am not loved, he gave me this one too.
Do you see? She believes that the Lord not only sees her, but he also hears her. I wonder, was she referring to the prayers she offered to the Lord? Did she pray to the Lord about her situation? Or perhaps it’s the case that the Lord heard the groaning of her heart and he heard her sighs in the night. In either case — whether she was praying or whether she was groaning — the Lord heard her and he answered her and enabled her to have a second son to comfort her.
And then she gave birth to a third son. Now, after the first and the third birth, Leah makes clear that she’s still hoping that Jacob will love her. Look at her words in verse 32:
It is because the Lord has seen my misery. Surely my husband will love me now.
And then look at what she said in verse 34:
Now at last my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.
She’s still hoping that Jacob will love her. But after the birth of her fourth son, she doesn’t mention Jacob. Instead she says:
This time I will praise the Lord.
It’s as if she’s realised that although her husband does not love her, nevertheless the Lord has made up for it by giving her the joy of having these four boys. One writer has put it like this:
The lesson should not be forgotten. The omniscient God sees every slight of his children, and has ways of alleviating their pain. A person who may not feel properly loved should be encouraged to look around and see how God may be making up for this lack in life.
Our loving Heavenly Father knows what we’re going through. He’s sees what’s missing in our lives. And sometimes — when it seems good to him — he gives us what we want. But, even when he doesn’t give us what we want, he nevertheless fills our life with other good gifts in order to alleviate our pain, so that the Lord’s people, who trust in him, are able to say with Leah:
I will praise the Lord. I will praise him because though others may hate me, the Lord loves me and cares for me and I can always trust in him.
And so, if you’re a believer, then look around you. Look around you and see what good gifts the Lord has given you. And remember and believe that he sees all that you’re going through and he hears the cries of your heart; and though others may hate you, he has set his steadfast love on you and he has promised to love for ever and ever.
Verses 1 to 13
Well, let’s move on to the second section, verses 1 to 13 of chapter 30. And in this section we see how the two sisters are battling it out, using their servants as surrogate mothers. We thought surrogacy was a modern thing, but it’s goes back to the days of Jacob. And in this section, we see once again the sin and misery which surround us all.
So, look how this section opens. Moses tells us that when Rachel saw that she was not bearing Jacob any children, she became jealous of her sister. And isn’t that often the way we are? Someone has something we want, and instead of praising God for his goodness to them, and instead of rejoicing with them in their joy, we resent it and we hate them for it. We hate them because they have something we want. Instead of rejoicing with her sister, Rachel was jealous of her sister. So, there’s her sin, because she was jealous of her sister. And there’s their misery, because instead of living in a happy home, they lived in a home where there was hatred and bitterness and jealousy.
Well, what did Rachel do? Did she cry out to the Lord? Did she raise her voice to heaven? No, she turned to her husband and she petitioned him:
Give me children, or I’ll die!
Jacob is absolutely right in what he said to her in verse 2. He said:
Am I in the place of God?
You’re coming to me and asking me to give you a child, as if I’m God who is able to hear and answer prayer. I can’t.
And he’s angry with her. And doesn’t that just highlight for us our sin and misery? The one thing we know about Jacob and Rachel, the one thing that has been emphasised before, is that Jacob loved Rachel. Remember? The seven years of labour he gave in order to marry her, seemed like only a few days because of his love for her. He loved her so much. Moses has made that clear. But even though he loved Rachel so much, he now becomes angry with her. And you can imagine how unhappy that home must have been at that time, just as every home becomes an unhappy place whenever one person is angry with another person in the same home.
Now, this is exactly what the Lord said would happen, back in Genesis 3, when he spoke of the struggle which would take place between husbands and wives after the fall. Their loving relationship would often be spoiled by struggling and fighting and arguing. The person we love the most is often the person we fight with the most. And we see it now in the relationship between Jacob and Rachel. He loves her, but he’s also getting angry with her. And every time a husband and wife fall out and fight, it reminds us how far we’ve fallen into sin and misery.
But what’s their solution? She can’t have children. What will they do? Well, what they didn’t do is to turn to the Lord in prayer and seek his help. Instead Rachel came up with a plan:
Here’s my servant. Sleep with her so that she can bear children for me.
And that’s what they did and Bilhah had a son and then another son. And aren’t Rachel’s words in verse 8 so revealing? She said:
I’ve had a great struggle with my sister, and I have won.
It’s as if she wants a child because of sibling rivalry and she’s happy now, not so much because she’s got a child at last, but because she doesn’t want her sister to get the better of her. Again and again, this passage speaks to us of the sin and misery which spoil all of our lives in different ways.
And Leah, who has since stopped bearing children, sees what Rachel has done and decides to do the same. So, Leah decides to copy Rachel and she gave her servant to Jacob and Zilpah bore Jacob two sons.
Well, this section should be a warning to us about the example we set others. We need to be careful that what we do is worth copying, so that we will not lead others into sin by the things we do and by the way we live our lives. Someone sees what we do, and says to themselves:
Well, if he does it, if she does is, it must be alright. I’ll do it too.
And so, we should be careful about the example we set.
But this section highlights what we’ve seen before, and how people in the Bible try to work things out on their own without seeking the Lord’s help. Do you remember Abraham and Sarah? God had promised to give Abraham many descendants so that they’d be like the stars in the sky. But Sarah hadn’t had a single child. And so, they decided to work it out on their own. They used Hagar as a surrogate mother. But that was not what the Lord intended. And God had promised to give Jacob many descendants, so that they’d be like the dust of the earth. Well, Rachel wanted to work things out on her own. She had the perfect plan. And so, instead of humbling herself before the Lord, and confessing her need, and seeking his help, she made this arrangement with her servant. And, in fact, we see something similar in the next section and this curious story about the mandrakes. So, let’s look at it now.
Verses 14 to 24
Reuben went out in the fields. Now, the commentators think that everything that happens in today’s passage took place in the seven years after Jacob’s marriage to Leah and Rachel, when Jacob was working for Laban to pay for his marriage to Rachel. And so, Reuben was probably very young and probably didn’t know anything about these mandrake plants. But he found them and took them to his mum.
Now, in those days, mandrake plants were considered to be an aphrodisiac and they would have been cut up and used to make a love potion. In other words, people believed they could help if you were trying to have a baby.
Well, when Rachel saw them, she wanted them. Again, instead of seeking the Lord’s help, she’s trying to work it out on her own. And like anyone who is desperate enough, she’s prepared to give any old wives’ tale a go.
Now, she asked for the mandrakes in a perfectly polite way:
Please give me some of your son’s mandrakes.
But Leah reacts very angrily, which just shows that the pain and sorrow in her heart is still there and really, you had to walk about on egg shells in that home, because relations between the sisters were so tense. But the two sisters make a deal: Rachel can have some mandrakes and Leah can have Jacob for one more night. Well, they’re treating Jacob the way a farmer might treat his prize bull: he’s someone who can be bought and sold and used.
But look at verse 17, because again we read that the Lord heard Leah and enabled her to bear Jacob a fifth son. Well, John Calvin suggests that this shows us how indulgently God deals with his family, because even though Leah had given her servant to her husband, and even though she had spoken so angrily to her sister, nevertheless, the Lord was prepared to pardon her sins and answer her prayers. And then, afterwards she bore Jacob a sixth son and a daughter too.
Well, every single day we sin against the Lord, just as Leah sinned against him. And every single day the Lord pardons us, and he forgives our sins and he does not treat us as our sins deserve. The Lord is very gracious and kind, and even though we may have done everything wrong, nevertheless he treats us — for the sake of Christ the Saviour — as if we have done everything right. And so, we’re able to seek his help in prayer and expect that he will answer us, not because we deserve it, but because he’s merciful.
And then at last, at last we see his mercy to Rachel. Look at verse 22:
The Lord remembered Rachel….
he listened to her.
Again, it’s not clear whether he heard her groans and sighs, or whether she finally gave up trying to work things out on her own, and she turned to the Lord in prayer. But in any case, the Lord heard her and he opened her womb and she gave birth to Joseph. And look at what she said:
God has taken away my disgrace.
Well, this passage reveals the sin and misery that spoiled Jacob’s marriage to Leah and Rachel. But it also reveals God’s grace and mercy to those who don’t deserve it. He pardoned their sins and answered their cries and he took away their misery and he enabled these woman to have children and to find joy and happiness.
And this is the same Lord we believe in, who delivers us from our sin and misery. And so, he pardons our sins for the sake of Christ who died for us. And he sees our afflictions and he hears our cries and he’s willing and able to answer us and to deliver us from our misery. And this is true for those who are married, and for those who are single. Whether we’re married or not, sin and misery ruins our lives, but the Lord Jesus delivers us from them. And one day, when Jesus Christ returns, he’ll bring us into the new heavens and the new earth where there will be no more sorrow or sighing or suffering or sin, but perfect peace and rest. And so, we ought always to trust in him and in his Son Jesus Christ, and to give thanks to him for his kindness to us, and we ought always to seek his help every day in order to face all of this life’s temptations and troubles while we wait for Christ to come again.
And do you remember how the Apostle Paul put it? When the Lord Jesus returns, his church will be presented to him as a radiant bride, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. Though our lives today are marked by sin and misery, we know that when Christ returns, we’ll be glorified. And all the sin that makes us ashamed will be gone; and all the misery which our sin causes will be gone. And for ever, we’ll be with the Lord, who loved us so much that he gave up his life for us.
Leah and Rachel wanted a happy home. They wanted a happy home where their husband loved them and where they had children to care for. But their home was spoiled by sin and misery. But the good news of the Bible is that the Lord Jesus Christ is right now preparing a home for his bride. And one day he’ll come and bring us to it. And there will be for those who are waiting for him everlasting joy and pleasures forevermore.