July 18, 2010

Ordinary Time Excursion-Rachel and Leah

Rachel is one of the better known women of the Bible. She is the beloved, chosen wife of Jacob. After he cheats his brother out of the birthright (the inheritance) his mother sends him to her brother in Haran. Laban has 2 daughters, Rachel whom he loves and Leah who had “weak eyes”.


Rachel’s father, Laban, tricks Jacob into marrying Leah and gains another 7 years of labor from Jacob as payment to marry Rachel. “Jacob went in to Rachel…and he loved Rachel more than Leah, and served Laban for another seven years.” (Genesis 29:30) Even with Jacob’s love, though, Rachel is discontented because she is unable to have children. Her sister, Leah, seems to have them easily. Rachel becomes angry and complains to her husband, “Give me children, or I shall die.” (Genesis 30:1) Like Sarah (who we met a month ago), Rachel takes matters into her own hands and offers her maid Bilhah to Jacob.

Thus begins the wild rivalry between the sisters. “Oh what a tangled web we weave, When first we practice to deceive,” says Sir Walter Scott. One wonders if Jacob was aware of the manipulation going on between his wives as they vie for his attention.

“When Leah saw that she had ceased bearing children, she took her maid Zilpah and gave her to Jacob.” (Gen. 30:9) Leah ‘buys’ a night with Jacob from Rachel in exchange for mandrakes (thought to promote fertility). Even when Rachel does conceive and Joseph is born, she yearns for another son. She names him Joseph, saying “May the Lord add to me another son!” (Genesis 30:24) A few years later, she does have a second son, Benjamin, but never has the joy of this child because she dies in childbirth near Bethlehem. (Genesis 35:16-21)

The seeds of the rivalry between the sisters bear dreadful fruit when Leah’s sons rise up against the favored half-brother, Joseph. Their original plan is to kill him, but instead he is sold into slavery. Ultimately Joseph rises to power in Egypt and saves the nation and his family from an extended time of famine. (Genesis 39-49)

Eventually, both Joseph and Leah come to the realization that their lives are part of God’s plan and that even the trials they suffered were for good. In my book, Beloved Leah, she tells her sons,

“My sons, you are all my sons, though I didn’t bear you all. I have raised you and watched you grow into good men, true husbands and loving fathers. Do not forget the God of Israel, your father, when you are in Egypt. Remember and teach your children how He showed grace by redeeming your anger and restoring your brother to you. Joseph has forgiven you. Accept that gift. My God has forgiven you as he has forgiven me. Do not be afraid. Trust in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He has promised to bring you back to this land as a mighty nation. Let go of the remaining fear and grudges against your brother. Do not continue to blame yourselves. The mighty hand of God has turned our evil designs and anger to great good for all.”

Isn’t it interesting that God transforms even our lies and manipulation into a harvest of fruit for the Kingdom of Heaven? God took the jealous rage of the sisters and their sons and used it to save a people and create a “kingdom of priests to serve our God.” (Exodus 19:6, Is. 61:6, Rev. 5:10)

If God can take our less than charitable actions and transform them into good—how much more blessed will our truly loving actions be? Jesus said, “‘Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.’” (Matthew 10:40-42)

How can we live so that our actions bring blessings? Sir Walter Scott suggests that “A sound head, an honest heart, and an humble spirit are the three best guides through time and to eternity.” Psalm 37 (18-19) says, "The LORD knows the days of the blameless, and their heritage will abide for ever; they are not put to shame in evil times, in the days of famine they have abundance.”

Is it possible that living as a blessing is simply a matter of welcoming Jesus in everyone we meet? We don’t have to do anything grand, even a cup of water can be a blessing to someone. There is a ‘cup’ only you can give. Perhaps it's a real cup of water, or a kindness, or an action, or a donation, or a smile, or something else.

What legacy will you leave behind? Can you share a ‘cup of water’ with someone this week?

Next week we will meet Deborah, a leader of Israel, even though she was a woman.

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