Sons for Rachel
“Rachel’s servant Bilhah conceived again and bore Jacob a second son. Then Rachel said, ‘With mighty wrestlings I have wrestled with my sister and have prevailed.’ So she called his name Naphtali” (Gen. 30:7–8).- Genesis 30:1–13
Reading about the dysfunctional families God used to establish His people encourages us today. Even now we, like Abraham, can fail to trust the Lord (Gen. 16). Who among us has never twisted the truth in order to get something from our parents as Jacob did (27:1–29)? Yet, by the Spirit, we repent for how we have contributed to familial strife and know that our Creator graciously uses imperfect families today, just as He has in the past.
Jacob’s family is filled with dysfunction. This is revealed as Moses describes the birth of the twelve tribes of Israel. Jealousy between Leah and Rachel had likely been simmering for years, since Rachel was the “pretty one” and Jacob loved her more than her sister (29:17, 30). But as we saw last week, this advantage was lessened once God opened Leah’s womb (vv. 31–35). Rachel sees her sister’s blessing in today’s passage and, angered by her own misfortune, acts far differently than the Lord did when He saw Leah. God responded kindly toward Leah, but Rachel is provoked to envy (v. 31; 30:1).
This ungodly response prompts her desperate cry to Jacob, one more intense than Sarah or Rebekah gave when they wanted children (16:2; 25:19–22). Jacob’s reply to his favorite wife indicates that her focus on him is inappropriate. He rightly acknowledges God’s sovereignty over childbearing (30:2; Ps. 127:3), and his words demonstrate that Rachel has not been approaching the Almighty in prayer. Rachel’s speech at Dan’s birth tell us she eventually trusted the Lord, but she is determined to get things done and gives her servant Bilhah to Jacob to bear sons for herself (Gen. 30:3–8). Given the problems Sarah’s similar deed produced (chap. 16), Rachel is clearly not acting in faith. Then Leah follows her lead, giving her maid Zilpah to Jacob, receiving two more sons in an attempt to one-up Rachel (30:9–13).
This sibling rivalry would finally produce the nation of Israel, and ultimately, the Messiah. Thanks be to God that He can use the faults of His children to bring life into the world. Matthew Henry comments: “There was much amiss in the contest and competition between these two sisters, yet God brought good out of this evil.”
John Calvin writes, “Moses, by exhibiting this evil in Rachel, would teach us that it is inherent in all: in order that each of us, tearing it up by the roots, may vigilantly purify himself from it.” Thankfully, the Lord can use sin to advance His purposes, but the elect never take this for granted. Consider how God has used an improper motivation on your part to advance His kingdom and thank Him for His grace. Then, repent over your sin if you have not yet done so.
Passages for Further Study
1 Peter 2:1–3