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The Sons of Jacob

Series: Genesis: The Foundations of the Faith

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Oct 17, 1999

Genesis 30:1-24

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Genesis 30:1-24

The Sons of Jacob

If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Genesis, chapter 30. We've been working through the life of Jacob for several weeks now, and we've seen that the consequences of Rebekah and Jacob's schemes, their sins, though they first became apparent in Genesis 27, verses 30 through 46 and though they were in the background in Genesis, chapter 28, and in the first part of Genesis, chapter 29. Genesis 29, verses 1 through 20. They really didn't come to the fore. We really didn't see the chickens coming home to roost until Genesis 29, verse 21 and following. In fact, in the passage that we're going to read tonight and the prior passage beginning in Genesis 29, verse 21, we really begin to see the consequences of Jacob's actions coming home to him. And it comes to him in the context of his family.

Now in Genesis 29, verses 1 through 20, we saw that God's good providence was both wise and undeserved. In fact, God was so good to Jacob in these passages we were beginning to wonder whether He was going to let him off the hook.

And then as we looked at Genesis 29, verses 21 through 35 last week, we came to the sequel of that first part of Jacob's love story, and we caught a glimpse there of God's sovereignty in His divine parenting. We saw His tough love, and His chastening mercy, and we saw that God loved His children so much that He refuses not to discipline them. And even in the midst of that discipline, He's not only doing them good individually, He's advancing His own divine purposes for the church.

And that brings us to the continuation of that story here in Genesis, chapter 30, verses 1 through 24. The nature of the content of this passage and several others that we’ll read in the future is very straight forward. So listen carefully to the word of God.

Genesis 30:1-24

Our Lord, we wonder sometimes as we approach a passage like this, what word You have to speak to our own hearts. And yet we know that every word of scripture is profitable for it has been given by inspiration, and therefore, we know that You intend it for our reproof, our correction, our training in righteousness. So we pray that by the Holy Spirit, Your word would be fruitful in our hearts, as we bow the knee before You and Your word. We ask it in Jesus' name, Amen.

This passage, of course, from the big picture perspective records for us the origin of the twelve tribes of Israel. We haven't gotten to Benjamin yet. That will be left for a little bit later, but basically we have the twelve tribes of Israel and their origins intact.

And let me just say a couple of things about that. I think that that in and of itself, that realization that this is Moses’ discussion of the origins of the twelve tribes of Israel is a testimony of the historicity of this passage. You would never make up this story to describe the origin of your great nation. You never would think of this. You would have some story about Romulus and Remus and some exalted tale that you would tell about how your nation began. You wouldn't have said that your nation started with a polygamous relationship between Jacob and two women who then got into baby wars with their concubines. Okay? You just never would have done it.

But it also shows us that behind all this intrigue, and frankly, behind the discipline that the Lord has planned for Jacob, God still has in view a plan for His people, a plan for His nation. He's going to build a great nation in spite of the sins and the shortcomings of the individuals involved.

This passage continues to focus on three people. The focus has been on these three people for the last few verses leading up to Genesis, chapter 30. The focus is on Jacob, on Leah and on Rachel. The focus is on Jacob first. He is now in a situation that he cannot extract himself from by duplicity. Jacob is now in a situation from which he cannot get himself out by manipulation. And that's exactly where God wants him. And the focus is on Jacob. The focus is also on Leah. This woman Leah is a frustrated woman. She is an unloved wife, and God shows tremendous sensitivity to her. We've already seen that in Genesis 29, verses 31 and 32. We’ll see it again in this passage. God knows exactly what she needs, and He is ready to come to her aid and to her side. And then the focus is on Rachel. Rachel in this passage makes three unbelieving attempts to remedy this situation, this situation of her childlessness. And finally, when God reaches out to her in grace and mercy, she suddenly realizes who is the source of all blessings. And so the Lord is speaking to these three characters especially in the passage. And here we see God's wisdom in dealing with these three sinners in just the way they needed to be dealt with.

Now let's look at the passage. I want to break it down into four parts. The first part is that initial exchange between Jacob and between Rachel in verses 1 and 2. Then the second part you’ll find in verses 3 through 13. There we see Rachel's second attempt to bring some resolution to her own childlessness. Then the third section you’ll find in verses 14 through 21. This is Rachel's third attempt to bring about an end to her childlessness. And then finally in verses 22 through 24 we see God coming to Rachel's aid really unasked. The language that is used there, in 22 through 24, is precisely the language that Moses uses in Exodus, chapter 2, to speak about how God came to the rescue of Israel in bondage in captivity in Egypt. You remember the words? And the groans of their crime came up to God and He remembered the covenant that He had made with Abraham. Well, in this passage there is no prayer from Rachel lifted up to heaven. All we see is the sovereign God who always sees saying He remembers Rachel and He comes to her. So let's look at these four parts together very briefly tonight.

I. Rachel's plan, sin and barrenness.

First, in verses 1 and 2, Rachel's first plan, her first resort in response to her jealousy and to her barrenness is her husband. She sees Jacob as the first line of solution to her childlessness. And we see in verses 1 and 2 that God knows exactly what we need, He knows us perfectly, and He knows exactly how to deal with us. Leah was a frustrated woman, she was an unloved wife, and she fled to God and God provided for her in her need. We read about that in Genesis 29, verses 31 and 32. Look at those verses. “Now the Lord saw that Leah was unloved, and He opened her womb, but Rachel was barren, and Leah conceived and bore a son and named him Reuben for, she said, because the Lord has my affliction surely now my husband will love me.”

So God knew the frustration, the pain, that Leah was facing. She was a woman who was unwanted, she was unloved, and God blessed her and He opened her womb. And it was part of His addressing and fulfilling the things that she needed. Actually, you could write a mini-study of the attributes of God just by studying some of the names which Leah gave to her children and studying some of the sayings which she attached to those names. Look at three or four of them. Reuben. It's a play on words that hints at the phrase that she says in verse 32. The Lord sees - he's a God who provides for His people in their need. And Leah seems to realize this. And then again, Simeon. It's a play on words that is similar to the Hebrew word for Shimar. Hear. And the idea is the Lord hears. He's a God who hears the prayers of His people. And then Judah. If you look at verse 35, “I named him Judah. This time I will praise the Lord.” The Lord be praised is the reference there. This God, the God of Israel is the one who is worthy of His people's praises. And if you look all the way down Genesis chapter 30, verse 20, and Zebulun. There again, “God has endowed me with a good gift. Now my husband will dwell with me because I have born him six sons.” So she named him Zebulun. God has gifted me. He's the one who gives every good and perfect gift.

And we said that Leah shows real signs of spiritual depth. She recognizes that the one that she needs to go is the Lord to give her vindication. And she is apparently a very good mother, though she is not Jacob's favorite. So God deals with her in a way that she needs to be dealt with.

And then there's Rachel. She's the love of Jacob's life, but she's childless. She's barren. She's spiritually shallow, she is perhaps spoiled. She's probably prideful and she's definitely envious. In fact, throughout this passage the main motive that is expressed in Rachel's desire to have children is not so she can be a wonderful covenant mother, it's not even so that the reproach of childlessness can be rolled away from her, it is because she is envious of her sister. That's why she enters into the baby wars in the middle of this chapter. She is in literal competition with her sister. I mean, you can imagine - the scenario is not difficult to imagine. She's better looking than her sister, and her husband is in love with her, not her sister. Her husband sought her out. Her husband didn't think that he was getting her sister. And it's very easy how she could be very prideful about this situation and look down upon her sister. And yet, her sister is having babies every time she turns around. And she cannot conceive. And the envy is palpable with this woman.

And so God knows exactly what to do with Rachel. And we're told all the way back in chapter 29, verse 31 that even though he opened the womb of Leah, Rachel was barren. And then again in chapter 30, verse 1, Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, and she became jealous of her sister. The Lord is getting ready to put her through the test of patience for the good of her soul.

And then there's Jacob. Jacob desperately needed to be put into a situation that he couldn't manipulate himself out of, and this was it. Jacob was fathering sons left and right, but he could not change Rachel's condition. He genuinely loved Rachel, he would love for Rachel to be able to have children, but Jacob is not God and he knows it. You notice for the first time in this story, Jacob has nothing that he can do. And for the first time you hear him say, Am I God? Can I pull this off? Does that sound like the Jacob who was able to scheme, to steal the birthright and blessing from his brother and father? God has Jacob right where He wants him, because he needs to learn that there are some things in life that you can't manipulate yourself out of. And he needs to learn more than that to flee to the Lord. By the way, that's the same lesson that God is teaching Rachel in this passage. Rachel and Jacob both need to learn to resort to the Lord first rather than their own scheming. Now Rachel is going to take some time on this. Bear with me as we work through the passage.

First of all, Rachel has gone to Jacob and said, you solve this. You help me have a child, you enable me to have a child. Leah needed encouragement. Rachel needed to learn to run to the Lord. Jacob needed to be cornered by the grace of God. And isn't it amazing that God does all of those things simultaneously in this plan. God is sovereign; and God is wise, and he shows it here. And then there's the second section.

In verses 3 through 13 here we see Rachel's second plan, her second resort, in response to the jealousy that she felt for Leah and her barrenness. She gives her maid Bilhah to Jacob. And in this passage you’re going to see four sinful actions which will beget future family strife but at the same time are used by the Lord to further his discipline and to establish Israel. Having endured a painful disagreement with Rachel, Jacob, despite the lessons which he should have learned from Abraham and Hagar, enters into an agreement with both Rachel and Leah and their handmaids to take them to wife. And so he takes Bilhah and Zilpah as a wife.

Now this would result in more family strife. We’re going to see this when we get to Genesis, chapter 35. More family strife is going to result from this situation, and this clearly broke the creation ordinances which say that the ideal is one man, one woman, one marriage. Even though this was acceptable apparently by current, social, local conventions, it was not acceptable in the sight of God's creation ordinances. And so we really could call the second section of this chapter the baby wars. But even Rachel's plan here is stalemated because as her maid, Bilhah, conceives two children, so also Leah's maid conceives two children, two sons. And so Rachel can't even catch up in this way.

This passage proves the importance of the one man, one wife principle by illustrating it in reverse. And it sets forth the stage for further problems that are going to occur in this family. You know, again, God is giving the full biography here. God is not candy-coating the patriarchs of His people. He's showing us their sins. They were big sinners in need of a big God with great grace. So God is very candid about their shortcomings.

II. Rachel's faithless resort.

Then in verses 14 through 21 we see Rachel's third resort. In response to her jealousy, in reaction to her barrenness, now she resorts to magic, to superstition. First she went to Jacob and she said you solve it. Then she gets her maid. She thinks her maid is going to be the answer. Now she goes to magic. Rachel sees Reuben, one of the sons of Leah, come in from the field and he has mandrakes. Now mandrakes in that culture were thought to be aphrodisiacs, and they were thought to improve fertility. And so she said I want those mandrakes. And she goes to Leah, and she says, can I have some of your mandrakes? And Leah is clearly bitter toward Rachel; and she says first you steal my husband, and now you want my son's mandrakes. And they make a deal and Leah hands over the mandrakes. And God once again, one again, just to show Rachel that He will not be manipulated and that she has no other recourse but to come to Him, even though she has taken the thing which by magic or by superstition, is supposed to give her fertility, Leah is the one who ends up conceiving. And Rachel is left empty-armed again. God is just reminding us that He will not be manipulated. And so to establish His point He makes the mandrakeless Leah fruitful again, and leaves Rachel frustrated.

III. God remembers Rachel.

And that sets us up for verses 22 through 24. Here God remembers Rachel. And the Lord reveals Himself to Rachel as the only one who can roll back her reproach. Finally, the merciful Lord, after contending long with Rachel, opens her womb and gives her a son, Joseph. And, you know — stand with me there when the children of Israel, fresh out of Egypt, hear Moses telling them this story. She waits and she waits and she waits and God gives her Joseph. Unasked for, unsolicited. And suddenly she acknowledges that it is God who has taken away her reproach and for the first time - look at verse 24 - out of Rachel's lips we hear the words “the Lord.”

Now Leah had used that name, the covenant name of God over and over. If you go back to Genesis 29, three times Leah will use the covenant name of God but you will not find the covenant name of God coming out of Rachel's lips until verse 24. Suddenly, the glorious nature of the grace of the covenant God is dawning on Rachel's shallow heart. God knows exactly what His people need. Rachel needs to be put in the situation that she cannot fix so that she learns that there's only one place to go for our help and our aid. That's God. Jacob needs to be in a place that he can't manipulate so that he learns to run to and trust in the covenant God. And Leah, though a frustrated wife and an unloved woman, needs to know that the Lord sees and provides and hears and remembers and is worthy to be praised. And God teaches all of those things at the same time to each of those three people, because our God is sovereign.

We need to learn those lessons, too. He's the first place we run. He's the only place we run. We cannot manipulate Him, but we ought to praise Him and He will pursue us as He loves us until we get the message. Let's pray.

Our Lord and our God we thank you for the truth of Your word and we ask that You would work it into our hearts and that we might respond to You with appropriate praise. In Jesus' name, Amen.

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