Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Treachery, Mandrakes, and Wrestling with God

Bible stories aren’t always safe and sanitized. Sometimes they can be a little wild, and a little risqué. I did my best to keep this particular story family friendly. For the entire saga you can read in Genesis Chapters 27-33.

I didn’t grow up in the most normal of nuclear families. I had brothers, half-brothers, step brothers, a step mother, step dads, and a foster sister.  Trying to explain it all can be a little complicated; but we were family.  This is an account of a family even more complicated to explain than mine.

So, in the aftermath of Jacob scamming his dad and stealing his brothers rightful blessing and birthright (see the full account here) Jacob went into a bit of exile to keep his brother from harming or killing him.  He moved in with his Uncle Laban, his mom’s brother.  Jacob wanted to represent his mom well and wanted to earn his keep so he worked very hard for his uncle.  After a month Uncle Laban felt bad for making Jacob work hard and not paying him, so he approached him and began negotiating a salary.

Laban had 2 daughters; Leah who was older and Rachel. The Bible described Rachel having “a lovely figure” and “being beautiful.”  Jacob was immediately smitten with her from first sight.  He also had no money or belongings with him for a traditional dowry. So when it came time to discuss salary there was only one thing Jacob wanted, Rachel.  He agreed to work for Laban with his livestock for 7 years in exchange for Rachel’s hand in marriage.

The years had to be long for Jacob. We know he preferred to be inside but was stuck outside with the livestock. However the Bible said the time flew by because he was so excited to get through it and marry Rachel. His love for her was intense. When the time had finally come he went to Uncle Laban and reminded him of their deal.  He could not wait to consummate their marriage.

You would think being the scammer he was, Jacob would have seen the next move coming, but he didn’t.  Laban threw a huge party to celebrate his daughter’s wedding. Of course there was a lot of food and a lot of wine.  Once the party was winding down Jacob expected Rachel to be brought to him for their first night together. Instead Laban brought his oldest daughter Leah to Jacob; and they slept together. 

Jacob went to bed ecstatic! He was finally getting to marry the woman he had loved for 7 years. He was finally going to get to… well, let’s keep this post family friendly. He must have woken up distraught and furious. He had just consummated his marriage to the wrong sister.

He ran to confront Laban- “What did you do to me?”” We had an agreement!” Laban scammed him badly; but it was the custom in that culture that the oldest daughter was to be married first. Laban agreed that if Jacob would stay on and keep working for him for another 7 years he could marry Rachel as well.

So now Jacob is not just married to two women; he is married to 2 sisters. Even more so he is married to two sisters while he lives with their father for at least 7 more years. Another element to consider is that he actually only loved one of the sisters but he was now committed to both. Sounds like a recipe for a smooth easy life, right?

Things didn’t get better for Jacob when Leah becomes pregnant and gives Jacob his first son. Leah hoped having a son would make Jacob love her, it didn’t. He did continue to fulfill his husbandly duties though and she had another son., and another, and another.   At this point, Jacob has 4 sons with Leah and has not yet had one with the woman he loves.  This created some serious jealousy and animosity.

Rachel was angry with Jacob, she was angry with Leah, she was angry with herself, and she was angry with God. She decided to give her servant to Jacob for him to sleep with so she could claim that child.  Jacob had 2 children with Rachel’s servant, which caused Rachel to feel vindicated that she could now claim to have children with her husband as well.

Image result for bible mandrakesThe sisters continued to compete for their husband’s love and when they didn’t conceive they found proxies.  Since Rachel had used her servant to have 2 kids with Jacob; Leah used her servant as well. Of course she conceived.  That’s now 7 children with 3 different moms.

Jacob’s love and affection for Rachel were greater than for Leah and everyone noticed it. That led to one of the strangest deals I have ever heard of.  Leah’s son had gone out into the wheat fields during harvest and brought in some mandrakes for his mother. Mandrakes were also referred to as “love apples” and apparently were fragrant if odd looking and are revered for their aphrodisiac qualities. Many of the Google search images of mandrakes look like they have faces or bodies, kind of creepy.

When Rachel saw the mandrakes she wanted some of them as well.

“…Rachel said to Leah, “Please give me some of your son’s mandrakes.”
15 But she said to her, “Wasn’t it enough that you took away my husband? Will you take my son’s mandrakes too?”
“Very well,” Rachel said, “he can sleep with you tonight in return for your son’s mandrakes.”
16 So when Jacob came in from the fields that evening, Leah went out to meet him. “You must sleep with me,” she said. “I have hired you with my son’s mandrakes.” So he slept with her that night. “ Genesis 30:14-17

So, if you read that the same way I did, Rachel just sold a night with her Husband to her sister for a few plants.  Wow!  As you might have guessed following that night Leah became pregnant again.  She later had a sixth son and a daughter with Jacob as well.  

That was now 10 kids for Jacob before finally he had a son with Rachel.  They were both very happy to have a son. They would eventually have one more rounding the total family out to 12 Kids with 4 different women.  That had to be fun at Sunday dinner.

After Jacob had completed his 7 years of service for Leah and now his 7 years of service for Rachel he was anxious to get back home to his homeland, but Laban convinced him to stay on and keep working for him.  The wages they worked out were going to be good for all parties, but both Jacob and Laban were schemers and both tried to make sure they were getting the better of the deal.  Both plotted and schemed to try to get the better of the other.

After several years of this animosity rose between the two and Jacob decided to hit the road. After 20 years living on Laban’s land working for him, marrying his daughters and providing him grandchildren Jacob took his family and all his possessions and left without telling anyone they were leaving.

The Bible tosses in a nice little side story about how when they were headed out Rachel stole some household items from her father. When Laban caught up with the group she continued to hide the items she had stolen and even told her dad she couldn’t get up from where she was seated because it was her time of the month. No surprise Rachel was deceptive since she had learned from both her husband and her father.

Laban had a vision from God that warned him not to cause harm to Jacob. He and his men eventually caught up to Jacob and his family. After each posturing and getting in each other’s faces they were able to talk out their differences and seem to part amicably. They worshipped together, dined together and Laban got to have a proper send off, kissing his daughters and grandkids good bye.

As Jacob and his family traveled back toward his homeland he began to worry about what might happen when he finally came face to face with Esau. This is where we see Jacob’s heart. This is where we see him humble himself in prayer; this is also where we see him humble himself in the eyes of the brother he wronged.  I believe this was the moment where Jacob dealt with his anguish, he dealt with his deceptions, he dealt with his past, and with his future.

The Bible says he wrestled with the Lord until daybreak. We have all had that moment when we feel our life is out of control; we have reached our wits end.  That’s where Jacob was. That’s where his true character was revealed.  In wrestling with the Lord; I am sure he wrestled with his relationships with his parents, his relationships with his wives, his relationships with his children, mostly his relationship with God himself. I imagine his fear, his doubt, his anguish, and his uncertainty all drove him to keep fighting with God.  He passionately fought with God seeking solutions to his problems.

Jacob was left with 3 reminders of his conflict with God that night; a noticeable limp, a new name, and seemingly a new peace and humbleness in his life. From this point forward Jacob was known as Israel and his children grew into the Twelve Tribes of Israel and later into the nation of Israel.

Jacob, had spent his entire life in conflict. He had problems with his dad, his brother, his uncle, his wives, and his uncle’s family. Some of his problems were his own creations and some were because of others. None of that stopped God from bringing him peace and using him.  Fear, abuse, sin, broken relationships, deceit, nothing is bigger than God’s grace. He will use us despite it all. 

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