Bickering and Bartering (Genesis 30)
Competition for Kids (verses 1-24)
In her anger, Rachel confronts Jacob with an unreasonable demand (v. 1). Although she blames her barrenness, really it is the rivalry with her sister that makes her life unbearable. Interestingly, on top of the unreasonableness of her request to Jacob, she is also demanding the very experience that will ultimately end her own life in the birth of her second son Benjamin. Jacob, who should have empathized and encouraged Rachel, despite her unreasonableness, was instead quickly angered and even quicker to shirk any blame or responsibility. Answering anger with anger is never ideal! (Proverbs 15:1)
Rachel and Jacob fall back on a similar deity assistance program that Abraham and Sarah had carried out in the case of Hagar. We are such slow learners, and often hard-headed! Why do we turn to the age-old bankrupt strategies of yesteryear, instead of simply trusting God through His Word? In the naming of the two sons born through her maid, Rachel declares victory by naming her sons “He Has Judged” in the case of Dan and “My Wrestling” in the case of Naphtali. Though Leah has four of her own sons, and Rachel has only two through her maid, somehow Rachel imagines that she is ahead. When we make the rules and choose sin, any sort of self-deception is possible!
Leah, fearing that Rachel is gaining on her in the corrupt competition for conceiving kids, adopts the same strategy of using her maid. Then, just when it seems like things cannot get worse, the two sisters barter for Jacob using mandrakes, which were believed to improve fertility. Rachel is desperate to conceive, demanding mandrakes; Leah is desperate for Jacob’s attention, dealing mandrakes. This family is now notorious for continuing to trade away things that should be above trade, things like birthrights, blessings, and husbands. In all of this, Jacob is anything but a good leader. He is being controlled by the sisters. He makes no effort to resolve the conflict, and instead, he simply exists in the crossfire of the competition.
Ironically, the mandrakes did nothing for Rachel, but Leah conceived again as a result of parting with them. God, not the fruit from the field, is the giver of life (Psalm 100:3). Sometime later, God remembered Rachel (v. 22). He had not forgotten her but rather had emptied her of privilege and pride. What Jacob could not do for her, what the mandrakes could not do for her, God did. He opened her womb and gave her a son, Joseph.
Tradition and Trust (verses 25-43)
With the birth of Joseph, Jacob’s thoughts and plans turned homeward. His favorite wife had now given him a son and his feet were itching to return to the Promised Land. He had witnessed God’s faithfulness to part of the promise (i.e. seed), and it now served to bolster his faith regarding the rest (i.e. soil). Laban is not keen on Jacob leaving, and his motive seems solely commercial and business-related, rather than based on his interest in his family. Jacob isn’t asking for anything to be given to him for free. Instead, he was only looking for a fraction of his earnings and was content to take the less desirable and smaller portion of the livestock. The scales were drastically tipped in Laban’s favor, rather than Jacob’s.
By selective breeding among the livestock, Jacob is not guilty of retaliatory deception—at least, not this time. Instead, he is using an old tradition that is vain technically, but he is trusting wholly in God to help him (c.f. Genesis 31:9). As a result of God’s faithfulness to Jacob, he “became exceedingly prosperous, and had large flocks and female and male servants and camels and donkeys” (v. 43).
- Even in the midst of the competition, the controversy, and the drama, God was accomplishing His purpose of making Jacob the father of a multitude of sons and preparing him to return to the land that had been promised. As we look back on Jacob’s life, we can see that the momentary affliction he experienced under Laban was actually producing a far greater reward. This a good reminder to us to “not lose heart” and to remember that “though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18). In your current situation, are you looking more to the things that are unseen, than to the things that are seen? Are you attempting to walk in the light of the eternal weight of glory that awaits all of Christ’s redeemed?
- Rachel made un unrealistic and unfair demand on Jacob: “Give me children, else I die.” But Jacob’s eventual Son, Christ Jesus, would, from eternity past, say to His Father, “Father, I will die to win sons and daughters for you!” Christ died to win sinners to God. Are you trusting in His sacrifice for you? Are you hoping in Christ alone to make you a child of God?