Reuben’s Mandrakes

When Jacob came out from the field in the evening, Leah went out to meet him and said, ‘You must come in to me, for I have hired you with my son’s mandrakes.’ So he lay with her that night. And God listened to Leah, and she conceived and bore Jacob a fifth son” (Gen. 30:16–17).

- Genesis 30:14–18

The tension that has been present for years in Jacob’s family due to the manner in which his wives envied each other comes to a boiling point after the birth of Asher to Leah’s maidservant (Gen. 30:13). Though doubtlessly well-known, the unspoken hostility between Rachel and her sister finds expression publicly in today’s passage.

Verse 14 begins with a record of the time Rachel requested the mandrakes Reuben found for his mother Leah during the wheat harvest. The mandrake is a Mediterranean plant with blue flowers in the winter and yellow, plum-like fruit in the summer. It has been desired in many cultures because of a belief that it is an aphrodisiac and promotes fertility. These qualities, coupled with the fact it was only rarely found in Paddan-aram where they lived (Gen. 28:5), explains why both Leah and Rachel desired the plant. Rachel herself has not borne any children, Leah has become temporarily infertile (29:31–30:13), and both are seeking a cure in the mandrake.

Again, the primary players in the chapter do not come off all that positively. Rachel and Leah are both showing superstition by putting their hope in a plant without asking God’s blessing on the potential medicine (Ps. 113:9). It is no wonder that Leah accuses Rachel of stealing her husband since Jacob’s profound and sinful neglect of Leah (1 Cor. 7:1–5) is evident in her willingness to trade the rare mandrakes for just one night with him. Rachel, in a sense, prostitutes Jacob by offering him to Leah for the desired fruit (Gen. 30:15) and is plainly more concerned to bear children of her own than she is for her sister’s welfare. Both women are willing to barter for relational and sexual intimacy, things that should never be so grossly traded.

Moses tells us God listened to Leah and gave her a son even though her prayer is not recorded (vv. 16–17). Ironically, the blessing of fertility comes not to the one who ate the “magical” fruit, but to the one who gave it away. By these two facts, the Lord shows His people that their superstitions are worthless, for He is sovereign over procreation. Still, Leah shows us how God often compassionately blesses us even when we act manipulatively to get our way.

Coram Deo

Many passages of Scripture warn the people of God against sorcery, astrology, and other similar practices (Ex. 22:18; Rev. 22:15). Most of us probably do not engage in such things, but superstitions remain part of the lives of many Christians. For example, some believers think praying the same prayer every day will guarantee a certain result. Take care to cast all superstitions from your life and trust in the Lord’s sovereign will that is working for your good.

Passages for Further Study

1 Sam. 28
Isa. 54:1
Luke 1:5–25
Acts 13:4–12

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