Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Rachel Wants Children -- Genesis 30:1-8

Now when Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, she became jealous of her sister; and she said to Jacob, "Give me children, or else I die." Then Jacob's anger burned against Rachel, and he said, "Am I in the place of God, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?" She said, "Here is my maid Bilhah, go in to her that she may bear on my knees, that through her I too may have children." So she gave him her maid Bilhah as a wife, and Jacob went in to her. Bilhah conceived and bore Jacob a son. Then Rachel said, "God has vindicated me, and has indeed heard my voice and has given me a son." Therefore she named him Dan. Rachel's maid Bilhah conceived again and bore Jacob a second son. So Rachel said, "With mighty wrestlings I have wrestled with my sister, and I have indeed prevailed." And she named him Naphtali.

Even with all the potential and sometimes actual heartbreaks that children can bring upon a person, human beings, especially women, have been created in such a way to consider them a real blessing and something to be desired. On the other hand, the inability to have children when they are very much wanted, either because of one’s own physiology or that of one’s spouse has often been a devastating blow to many. In today’s world, more and more couples are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars each to make having children possible. Thanks to some celebrities, the inability to have children is no longer perceived as a socially unacceptable situation, and more and more couples are turning to adoption. Things were not that different for Rachel.

Having seen that Leah had provided Jacob with four children, Rachel, unless Jacob had been refusing to sleep with her, should have realized that Jacob was not the problem in the fact that she had been unable to conceive. Instead, she does two things that come naturally to people when things aren’t going their way. First, they become jealous of others who are indeed succeeding at the very thing they want to succeed in. Rachel became jealous of her sister Leah. Others, in different circumstances, become jealous of their siblings’ financial success, or their colleagues’ promotion, or their friends’ athletic ability, etc. We tend to focus our feelings on or against an individual that has very little to do directly with the cause of our dissatisfaction. I would venture to say that Rachel was interested in having children for Jacob more than she was wishing that Leah had none. We often wish we could be as successful as someone else, more than we wish that individual to have failed. But in the midst of the hurt of not being able to succeed, we have a tendency to project our negative feelings on the one succeeding where we are failing.

Secondly, even though careful thought would have helped Rachel to realize Jacob was not at fault, she expects him to fix the problem. And not only that, she implies that if he can’t, she’ll die. Wow. Think of how Jacob must have felt. First, the woman he really loves cannot have children. Secondly, she expects him to change that. Thirdly, she tells him she’ll die, perhaps out of a broken heart and he’ll lose her. How would you feel? Had we had all our senses and were displaying all of the Christ-like character we are expected to display, we would still probably do what Jacob did – we’d get angry.

Jacob understands he is powerless to change what He believes God ordained. And he is angry at Rachel for thinking he can do anything about it. Just like Jacob’s grandmother Sarai (prior to God renaming her Sarah), his wife Rachel now takes matters into her own hands and offers her maid Bilhah to Jacob as a wife so that Rachel may bear children for him through Bilhah. There is an interesting phrase in verse three and it is that Bilhah, Rachel’s maid “may bear on my (Rachel’s) knees”. Although I have strived to avoid reference to commentaries wherever possible, this was one instance I needed help to determine whether the comment was one uttered as a fact or symbolically. David Guzik, the director of Calvary Chapel Bible College, Germany, indicates in his work that this referred to a practice whereby the husband impregnates the surrogate (in this case Bilhah, Rachel’s maid) while she is reclining on the wife’s lap. Strictly no room for romance here. This was not intended to be an original version of the much looser sex life of individuals, couples, and triads that some engage in these days and contrary to what God intended for sex and marriage. In fact, Guzik goes on to say that the surrogate may even recline on the wife as she gives birth. All of this symbolically showing that the child was legally the child of the wife, not the surrogate as the latter only substituted temporarily for the real mother both at conception and at birth.

We often hear of sisters, both married and single, who have no children of their own, symbolically adopt the children of their sibling as if they were their own and love them to death. One could have expected that of Rachel. However, it appeared that she was more interested in the idea of having her very own children legalistically, and the power and recognition that go along with that, rather than love those of her sister Leah, especially as they lived in the same household, yet different houses. Or, perhaps that was the cause of her preference. One sin (that of more than one wife) now leads to another ‘sin’, that of desire for power and recognition which in turn results in having a surrogate bear a child for her, something that although acceptable in culture, may not have been in God’s will for her.

And Jacob agrees to all of this. Could he have refused? Perhaps, but unlikely. If you’re a male reading this, just picture yourself in Jacob’s situation. The wife you love cannot have children, legally and culturally she can use her maid as a surrogate, and you are already in a polygamous marriage. He has intercourse with Bilhah and she bore Jacob a son. And Rachel, the official and legal mother names him Dan which means ‘judge’ because she believes God has justified her feelings and desires.

What is interesting is that in those days when a maid is given to the husband as a surrogate, she becomes an official wife of the husband. So for that reason, Jacob may have continued to have relations with Bilhah beyond the initial time that Rachel had used her as a surrogate. Whether this was at the request of Rachel again or whether her permission would have been required at this point is not known. In any case, Bilhah conceived again and bore Jacob a second son. Rachel as the official wife with authority over the surrogate wife still has naming rights and Bilhah’s second child is still Rachel’s legally. She names this son Naphtali which means ‘wrestling’ because she felt she had wrestled fervently with her sister and now with two sons of her own, she prevailed.

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1 comment:

  1. Yowza! Things are not complicated enough...Leah...Rachel...now, we add Bilhah into this mix...no matter what one says culturally or legally these are real live mortal women with souls;... which ever way she looks at it, it looks like Leah will always be second; Rachel can have a dozen surrogates still the fact remains these children Bilhah conceived are not of Rachel's own body. I wonder if Rachel was ever "perfectly" happy, culturally or legally no matter what "the heart does not lie", the heart and soul will win over in this mastery. Another though, from day one, was there always a sibling rivalry between Leah and Rachel? There's nothing new under the sun...remember Cain and Abel?...