Monday, October 19, 2009

The Competition for Jacob’s Attention Continues -- Genesis 30:14-16

Now in the days of wheat harvest Reuben went and found mandrakes in the field, and brought them to his mother Leah. Then Rachel said to Leah, "Please give me some of your son's mandrakes." But she said to her, "Is it a small matter for you to take my husband? And would you take my son's mandrakes also?" So Rachel said, "Therefore he may lie with you tonight in return for your son's mandrakes." When Jacob came in from the field in the evening, then Leah went out to meet him and said, "You must come in to me, for I have surely hired you with my son's mandrakes." So he lay with her that night.

As the sons of Jacob grew older, they started visiting the fields while others worked. On one of those occasions, Reuben, his oldest son by Leah, found some ‘mandrakes’ and brought them home to his mother. Research indicates these were a rare find. Some think they were a little orange-colored fruit that grew on bushes. Others think they were Jessamine flowers. Whatever they were, we know that they were thought to have some unique impacts with respect to love and fertility, thus they were referred to as “love apples” for their aphrodisiac powers.

Leah was indeed hoping these would allow her to conceive again. She may have even thought that, simply because she had these, Jacob would want to have sexual relations with her, if for no other reason but to have another chance at more children.

Rachel on the other hand could not stand to see these mandrakes in the hands of Leah. She had to have them even if she had to buy them somehow. And Leah pounces on the opportunity to exchange these mandrakes for what she believes is her right – the chance to be with her husband. This is indeed reminiscent of Jacob taking advantage of Esau’s hunger and desire for his stew as presented in Genesis 25. Without Rachel’s coveting the mandrakes (as Esau coveted Jacob’s stew), Rachel would not have agreed to what Leah was able to obtain in exchange for those mandrakes. At that moment Rachel’s desire for having Jacob all to herself as the most loved was at great odds with her desire for those mandrakes and need for bearing children. Left to ourselves, our inner passions will often contradict each other and take us down a path we should not go.

It is possible that mandrakes may have contained a biological agent that assisted in fertility. Alternatively, it could have been simply a placebo. In either case, there appears to be a correlation between the mandrakes and Leah’s fertility on this occasion. I tend not do agree with those that suggest God allows strange agencies (such as mandrakes) to be used to bring His will about especially if the people that engage these agencies are giving them, rather than God, the credit. The theology of that can be very misleading. What is critical to note is that God listened to Leah and heard her plea (vs. 17) for more children and/or her desire to be with her husband. She desired that blessing and prayed for it, and now through Rachel’s weakness, she gets the opportunity to be with her husband again to help make her prayers a reality.

In this whole scenario one can see some of the complications with polygamy. For starters, Jacob has no way of taking a stand against it at this point. There was clear hostility between Leah and Rachel over their common husband, whom one felt the other had stolen from her. We do not know if it was as painful to Jacob as it was for the two of them. He certainly wasn’t complaining and I imagine it did his male ego some good to have them fighting over him this way. And so he went and spent the night with Leah and had intercourse with her.

There are other things about this arrangement that somehow do not sit well with anyone who has been blessed by the wisdom of God’s original plan for marriage as He expressed it in Genesis 2:24 – one man joined to one woman in single one-flesh relationship. The thought of any wife having to ask permission from another wife to sleep with her own husband, especially as it wasn’t even in the hand of the husband to grant, is not natural nor the way God intended things to be. And then the image of Leah meeting her husband as he came in from the fields at night and asking him to come ‘home’ with her reminds me of all the broken marriages I’ve watched on television over the years. Again, this is not the way I believe God intended marriage to be. That’s why according to, D. G. Barnhouse, that great commentator once said about this family, “Is it any wonder that this family had a history of strife and bloodshed? Children reflect the atmosphere of the home.”

One may well stop to ask the question, “Was there some other reason, something other than the typical competition between women, especially between sisters, or even a female’s innate yearning to be a mother with child, that gave rise to this race for more and more children for Jacob at any cost?” Some have postulated, “yes”. It is possible that both Rachel and at least Leah, had a sincere desire to help fulfill the promise God had made to their great-father-in-law Abraham and the same promise God had renewed with their husband, Jacob. They knew that Jacob’s seed should be as great as the number of stars in the heavens. They also knew that through this seed “all the nations of the earth should be blessed” as we read of in Genesis 18:18, 22:18, and 26:4. That had to mean that through one of their lineage, someone would be born that somehow would impact all the people of the world positively. There is no doubt that any woman, especially one who had had a religious upbringing as both Leah and Rachel had, would want to be the one through whom this global blessing would be made possible.

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