The Majesty of God
Chapter Fifteen – Birth of a Nation
When Jacob rolled over in bed the morning after his wedding to kiss his lovely bride, he saw, instead, the anguished, tear–stained face of Leah. He shoved Leah away and asked her what was going on. She trembled and told him fearfully that her father had made her do it.
Jacob leaped from his bed with a roar, wrapped a blanket around his hips, and tore out of his chamber to confront Laban about the deception. He was now finding out how his father and Esau felt about what he did to them. He hadn't repented of his deception in all his years of wandering, so he needed a huge kick in the rear end to help him finally get the message that he should not have jumped ahead of God and taken matters in his own hands, and dishonoured his father in the process by lying to him.
Jacob demanded a reason from Laban for his deception, Laban excused it by saying that it was their custom for daughters to marry in the order of their birth. Nobody suitable had offered for Leah and she had to be married before he would consent to letting Rachel marry.
Perhaps Jacob said that he should have said something about that before they made their deal. Laban would come back with, "Well, I figured that sometime in the last seven years a suitable offer would be made for Leah, but nobody proposed one." If Jacob had known that Leah had to be married first, he would have searched far and wide for a husband for her. But it was now dawning on him that Laban was very calculating behind his amiable exterior, and it would not have suited him to tell him before his wedding day.
This was confirmed when Laban urged him to continue to consummate his marriage to Leah for a week, and he promised to give him Rachel after that, for whom Jacob would serve another seven years. Jacob was cornered. He had just got himself a wife for whom he would not have served Laban for a day, never mind seven years. And now he had to serve yet another seven years for the woman he wanted. All he could do was agree, but Leah found herself with a resentful bridegroom who performed his duties without a word and then coldly rolled over and went to sleep.
Leah actually had some very fine qualities, in spite of how she went along with her father's deception. All the time that Jacob served for Rachel those first seven years, Leah was intrigued when he talked about God. She was genuinely interested in learning about God and getting to know Him. And it wasn't Leah who stole Laban's household gods when they left his camp thirteen years later.
Before he accidentally married Leah, Jacob probably was quite fond of her. He likely thought of her as a rather nice woman and was glad that his future sister–in–law was someone whom he got along with well and would be a nice aunt to his children. It took him a long time to forgive her for going along with her father's trickery.
Rachel was shocked and then furious when her father ordered Leah to dress in Rachel's wedding clothes. Seven years of being courted by an interesting and intelligent man who cherished her and regarded her as an equal, in spite of her gender and her youth, had made her look forward to the consummation of their betrothal, but there was more to her jealousy than that. Instead of having the honour of being the First Wife, preferably THE ONLY WIFE, and her oldest son having natural title to the double portion, she had to take a secondary position to her sister, and that sister would probably give birth to a son before her.
There was nothing Rachel could do about it, though it was contrary to the righteous customs practiced by her grandfather and his father before him. They had refrained from forcing daughters to marry against their will, and possibly ending up abused or neglected. Patriarchal law, such as was gradually being adopted and enforced by Laban, favoured men. Wives and children were coming to be considered as property. Rachel wept in her lonely bed as she imagined her sister lying in Jacob's arms instead of her, and some of her weeping was due to her indignation at the indignity her father was subjecting her to by using her as a commodity, so that he could get seven more years of work out of Jacob.
It was bitter for Leah, also, because the sweet endearments that Jacob whispered in her ears were for another woman. If he hadn't been somewhat tipsy, he might have figured out that she was not Rachel. She was afraid he still might figure it out before the night was over. She possibly was not as slim and shapely as Rachel, but Jacob didn't notice in the dark.
It was not until the next morning when Jacob awoke with a smile, anticipating a resumption of the night's activities, that he looked down at the woman in his arms and discovered, to his horror, that she was not the woman he thought she was.
Leah had four children, one right after another, because the Lord saw that Jacob hated her, whereas Rachel was loved. Rachel, on the other hand, could not bear children until Jacob learned to forgive Leah and treat her with more consideration and respect, instead of rapping out household orders, doing his bedroom duties with minimal preliminaries, no cuddling afterwards, and ignoring her the rest of the time.
The first son was Reuben, named thus because Leah knew God cared about her suffering and had given her a son, so hopefully her husband would now love her. Basically, Reuben's name means "Sonny." Jacob was a hard case, though. He didn't warm up to Leah that easily. So God gave her another son, whom she named Simeon, which meant "hearing." Leah was learning to pray and look to the Lord for help. Levi was born next and his name means "attached," for Leah was hoping that her husband would now bond with her, since she had borne him three sons. No go. God took pity on her again and she gave birth to Judah, which means "praise." Leah was going to praise the Lord for her four, sweet blessings, regardless if Jacob now appreciated her or not. After that, she didn't get pregnant again for a while.
Meanwhile, Rachel was going crazy with disappointment over not being able to get pregnant. This was too much. Not only did she have to share her husband with her sister, but now she was much lower in status because she was apparently infertile. Their servants and neighbours were probably saying that it was a good thing that Laban put one over on Jacob, marrying the older sister to him first, seeing as Rachel turned out to be barren. It was a great disgrace to be barren in that culture, besides a personal heartache to a woman.
Rachel insisted that her husband take Bilhah, her slave, as a concubine to give her children that would legally be considered Rachel's. So Jacob reluctantly plodded off to impregnate Bilhah. Some men might have thought this was a real bonus, his wife pushing another woman at him, but Jacob was a gentle man who liked peace and tranquility. He really had wanted only one wife, not two who were sniping at each other, and a third who was a quiet, lowly, timid creature, three women whom he had to service like a stud bull, two of them cutting in on time when he either would have preferred to make love to his beautiful wife, or to get some sleep.
Bilhah gave birth to two sons, Dan and Naphtali, which Rachel named, as she considered them to be hers. The Baby Wars stepped up when Leah saw Rachel give Jacob her servant to conceive children for her. Seeing that she seemed to have ceased getting pregnant, she gave poor, old Jacob her slave, as well, to be his concubine and bear more children for her. Leah named Zilpah's two sons Gad and Asher. Asher means "happy," and Leah got even happier.
Leah's son Reuben found some mandrake roots, which were believed to cure infertility. Rachel said that she wanted them, but Leah would not let her have them without a price. She accused Rachel of having stolen her husband, which was rich. It was Leah who stole Rachel's husband, having gone along with her father's plan to marry her to Jacob in Rachel's place. Jacob's heart had always belonged to Rachel. Regardless of the unfairness of that accusation, Rachel offered to let Leah have her upcoming night with Jacob in exchange for the mandrakes.
Leah met Jacob as he plodded home after a hard day at work and told him that she had hired him for the night. If ever a man felt like a piece of meat that was being used, Jacob probably felt that way when he heard those words. But God blessed the event and Issachar was born. Afterwards, Leah conceived again and gave birth to another son, whom she named Zebulon, which means "habitation." She had hopes that her husband would dwell with her now, seeing as she had given him six sons. He probably shared a tent with Rachel when he wasn't servicing the other wives.
God loved Leah tenderly, the homely girl who had a squint because her eyes were weak, whose bland looks did not compare with her lovely, younger sister, that sister who was deeply loved. Leah was a girl that rich men, such as would have been acceptable to her father, did not want to wed. They could afford to bargain for a beautiful girl. Leah probably would have been an old maid, if Jacob hadn't happened along to be tricked into marriage. Going along with her father's scheme had been wrong, but God understood her lonely heart. After giving her six sons, He topped off His generosity by giving her a daughter.
Jacob saw that Leah was getting the blessings that Rachel wanted and finally clued in that his attitude towards Leah was withholding children from Rachel. He repented of his bitterness. He took a good look at Leah, bypassing her outward appearance, a woman who had never been pretty in the first place and now her figure was stretched by seven children. She was a good mother. She was a faithful wife. She had grown closer to God, the same God whom he served. She really believed in Him and wanted to please Him, regardless of the idolatrous culture in which she was raised. All of this counted for a lot, and Jacob decided to treat her accordingly.
God did not condone Leah's deception, but He considered what a huge temptation it was for her quietly submit to her father's command to take Rachel's place at her wedding. She finally had a chance to marry and have her own family, and escape the scorn of others because she still single long past the age at which women usually married.
And what if she hadn't quietly submitted to Laban's demand? Leah was likely to have been beaten into submission. Laban would have roared his head off at being disobeyed. He probably would have made her do a lot of dirty work, and humiliated her in countless other ways for having defied him. She might have been punished by being pressured into marrying someone she found repulsive.
Jacob probably considered these things, finally empathized with Leah, and began to see the justice of what had happened to him. Had he not dishonoured his father by deceiving him? Had he not robbed his brother through deception? When his spirit became meek and he accepted that he deserved to have his father–in–law deceive and rob him, and forgave Leah for her part in it, God finally opened Rachel's womb and let her conceive.
If Rachel became annoyed by this warming of Jacob towards Leah, it was soothed by the fact that she finally got pregnant, and she gave birth to a darling, little boy who was heart–breakingly beautiful and immensely intelligent. She would not grudge her sister any kindness that Jacob showed her, now that she had her heart's desire.
The child's name was Joseph. He had red hair like his Uncle Esau, but less of it on his body, and his features were very handsome. His large, solemn eyes observed much and his heart was tender and attuned towards God. Joseph's brothers resented him because their father doted on Joseph as the memorial of the love between him and Rachel. Jacob had waited a long time for his favourite wife to conceive and Joseph was surely the most outstanding of all his children.
Jacob served Laban for fourteen years for his wives, but then had to do something about building his own wealth. It would not do to return home empty–handed. He had to not only provide for his family's journey homeward, but also demonstrate that he was a success so that his leadership of his father's house would be accepted. He made a deal with his father–in–law. He would continue to work for him, if Laban would let him have all the sheep and goats that were speckled, spotted, or streaked, and Laban would keep the pure white animals. Since pure white animals dominated, Laban readily agreed.
Jacob knew that God would bless him because He had decreed it. Remembering how God used visual aids to help Abraham develop his faith, he decided to employ some to encourage his faith also. When he brought the flocks to water and they mated there, he set rods before them that he peeled some of the bark off of, so that they were streaky. He set the rods before the flocks when they mated. A lot of streaked animals were produced. When feeble animals were watered, he removed the rods. He didn't want their offspring. The weak offspring turned out to be white.
Jacob's wealth burst forth and increased. Laban was jealous and he argued with Jacob until Jacob consented to different terms about which animals he would keep. But no matter how many times Laban changed the deal, whatever colour of animal he agreed to let Jacob have, that was the colour of the strong animals that were born, and there were always a lot of them.
This went on for six years and Jacob finally decided that he had enough wealth to make his return home triumphant. He knew, though, that Laban and his sons would not allow him leave with all his flocks, if they could prevent it. Laban no longer pretended to be friendly. He scowled at Jacob when he saw him, talked to him curtly, and Jacob's brothers–in–law griped that he had stolen their inheritance.
Besides that, God spoke to him and told him to return to Canaan, assuring him that He would help him get away from Laban, and He would continue to help him when he got to Canaan.
Jacob sent for Leah and Rachel and led them to a field where nobody would overhear them talking. He told them of his plan to leave. They consented to his plan, though women normally stayed close to their family after they married, so that their family could provide protection if the husband turned out to be a scoundrel. By this time, they knew that Jacob could be trusted, and that their family was taking advantage of them, rather than protecting them. They agreed that it was time to leave. They resented that their father had sold them like they were slaves, not caring how Leah would feel when Jacob punished her for going along with her father's deception, or how Rachel would feel about having to share her husband with another woman. Also, by cheating Jacob, their father was also cheating them.
When Laban went off to shear his sheep and was too distant and too busy to realize that Jacob was leaving, Jacob and his household packed in a hurry everything they had that was worth keeping.
Rachel slipped away to her father's altar and stole his idols to ensure that her brothers could not take away their property when they caught up with them. According to the law, if a son–in–law took his father–in–law's idols, it made him the man's son, and gave him legal claim to be an heir along with the other sons.1 I surmise that the idea behind this law was that if a man's gods let someone steal them, then they approved of the man. Rachel knew that Jacob would not approve of them having idols in their possession, so she hid them and didn't tell anyone what she had done.
The family and their servants loaded everything up and sped away, trying to put as much distance as they could between Laban and his sons before their absence was discovered. They got a three day lead on him. Then Laban found out that they were gone and he was furious. He ordered his men to mount up for pursuit and went to pray to his idols for success, but discovered they were gone.
It took Laban a week to catch up with Jacob. During that time, he probably envisioned all sorts of things that he would like to do to put Jacob in what he thought was his proper place and plotted with his sons. But God brought him up short. The night before they caught up to the escapees, Laban had a dream and God warned him to not be violent towards Jacob.
Though he wasn't allowed to do what he planned, Laban gave himself the satisfaction of a rant and told Jacob the Sneak what he thought of him for sneaking off, not allowing him to give a sending–off party to say good–bye to his daughters and grandchildren. Jacob replied that he did not believe that Laban would have let them leave in peace.
Laban accused him of stealing his gods. There was an implication that Jacob was not so devoted to God and as righteous (according to God's laws) as he pretended. Laban did not want Jacob to use those idols to present a claim to his property. Jacob could have not only kept what he had, but obtained more.
As Laban expected, Jacob resented the accusation that he was an idolater and a thief and denied that he had stolen anything, including those idols. He invited Laban to search the camp and see if there was anything there that he didn't have legal claim to, going so far as to say that he would let Laban kill whoever had those idols, if he found them.
Laban did not find the idols. Rachel hid them in her camel's furniture and was sitting on it when her father entered her tent. She asked him to excuse her for not rising up in respect for him because she was suffering from menstrual cramps. He let her stay seated and came back empty–handed when he returned to rant some more at Jacob.
Jacob beat him to it and ranted at Laban about how he cheated him out of his wages over and over, and how Laban never gave him a break when animals were lost through no fault of Jacob's, but insisted that he bear all the losses. He shouted that he had worked his tail off for Laban, but he didn't appreciate it. He was his sister's son, but he never gave him a break. Even the fact that he let him marry his daughters was not because of family loyalty, but because of his mercenary interests. Laban had used him, and Jacob was not going to put up with it anymore.
Laban stubbornly insisted that all of Jacob's property actually belonged to him, including his wives and children. By law, as the protector of his daughters and their children, there was some basis for this assertion, but he knew there was nothing he could do to prevent Jacob from leaving and taking his family with him. It had been understood at the start that Jacob would eventually leave with his family because his destiny was in Canaan. He had to return to his father for a reunion and take up his duties as the leader of his tribe when Isaac died. To make it look like he still had some control, Laban insisted that Jacob take an oath that he would not mistreat his daughters or take any more wives.
Jacob had no intention of mistreating his wives, and he already had three more wives than what he had ever wanted, so he didn't find it a problem to agree to this. But he understood that Laban had to save face. He was not against letting a man walk away with some dignity. He made the vow.
Jacob and Laban built an altar to serve as a memorial of their parting and a caution against intruding on each other's territory. The future generations of Laban's sons could not invade Israel with the claim that Jacob had stolen from them, nor could Israel cross over into their borders on the basis that they owed them more wages for Jacob's service.
After that, they had a going away party that lasted all night. In the morning, Laban embraced and kissed his daughters and grandchildren, blessed them all, and returned home.
Jacob's worries were not over. Laban was squared away, but he still had to face his brother. Esau was a warrior and he wondered if Esau was still mad at him. Jacob fretted and prayed. God sent angels to assure him that He would help him.
Jacob sent messengers to Esau to tell him that he had returned to Canaan after living several years with their Uncle Laban, and acquiring wealth in Syria. Esau mounted up with 400 warriors and headed off to meet him. Jacob was alarmed when he heard of this.
He prepared a huge gift of flocks and herds to send on ahead and hopefully get Esau softened up before he met him. The rest of his animals were divided into two herds so that if Esau attacked, he would not get everything.
After that was done, he set up his camp, got his family settled for the night, and then returned over the brook they had crossed earlier in the day. He wanted to be alone to pray.
Jacob received a visitor that night, a man who came and stood silently before him. Jacob sensed that this was a holy visitor and he waited for some word of reassurance and encouragement. The man turned away without saying a word. Jacob leapt to his feet and grabbed hold of him. He would not let the angel leave without giving him a blessing. The angel pulled away but Jacob hung on.
They wrestled all night. The angel could have overpowered him easily, but God's intention was for Jacob to develop spiritual muscle. Jacob had useful talents and powerful connections, but he was humble, nonetheless. He knew that, even with all his assets, he still needed God in order to be victorious in life. He knew that people succeed only if God lets them, that He is always in control, and Jacob wanted to remain faithful to God to the finish. How desperate was he for God? This was his opportunity to demonstrate how much he wanted God and His blessing.
Jacob hung on all night. It was not his physical strength that kept the angel there, but what was in his heart – his determination. The angel touched the inside of Jacob's thigh to handicap him so that he would let him go, but even with a handicap, Jacob would not let go of his faith in God and his determination to obtain His blessing. He kept wrestling in spite of the pain of his displaced joint. He hung on to his faith in God's goodness, despite the fact that God had caused this pain.
Yes, God caused him that pain, not satan, but, in later years, Jesus made it clear that satan comes to kill, to steal, to destroy, that he is the one who causes sickness, and that by healing everyone who came to Him for healing, Jesus revealed that it is always the Father's will to heal, for God sent Jesus to the Earth to reveal His heart of love, His will. If Jacob's thigh never got healed, it is because Jacob never asked God to heal it.
But the Bible does not say that the shrinking of the sinew of Jacob's thigh was permanent. It only says that, when he crossed over the brook afterwards, he halted on his thigh. The injury may have been reversed eventually.
Even if the handicap that God gave to Jacob remained, it did not kill him, steal from him, or destroy him. It served as a reminder to Jacob and all his descendents of the day that Jacob wrestled with God and persevered, received the blessing he sought, and that his continual pursuit of God resulted in the change of his name from "Sneak" to "Israel," which means "he will rule as God."
If anyone supposes that God is allowing them to be ill to teach them something, let them ask themselves if their disease or injury is elevating them to a higher spiritual plane, or if it grinding them down, hindering them from serving God effectively, making life more difficult for their family, weakening their faith in God's goodness, and presenting a confusing picture about God to the world. These are satan's purposes for injury and illness. What happened to Jacob's thigh did not have any negative repurcussions on his faith or reputation, or God's reputation, nor cause an inconvenience or grief to his family.
Finally, the angel pointed out that day was about to break. Esau was on his way and Jacob had to deal with him, but Jacob knew he could not deal with Esau, if he did not have what he needed from God. He did not care if Esau showed up and rode over top of him; he was going to keep on wrestling until that angel gave him a word from the Lord.
The angel asked him what his name was. He replied that it was Jacob. Then the man replied, "Your name isn't Jacob anymore. From now on it is Israel, for as a prince you have power with God and with men, and have prevailed." Jacob was staggered as it dawned on him that this was not merely an angel whom he had wrestled with all night. He asked, "Who are you? What's your name?" The man smiled and said, "Why are you asking my name?" In essence, he was saying, "You know who I am." And then God blessed him.2
Jacob remained a while trembling after He disappeared, astounded that he had seen God face to face, and yet had not died. He called that place Peniel, which means "face of God."
Jacob limped into his camp to rejoin his family. The presents for Esau were all set to go. He sent them on ahead in stages, so that Esau could get a good look at all the sheep, goats, cattle, donkeys, and camels he was giving to him and see how fine they were. The fact that Esau was on his way with 400 warriors indicated that he still burned over what Jacob had done years ago, and Jacob could see that Esau's dignity needed to be restored, that he was raised up in the sight of his men, which his princely gift was designed to do.
Jacob set forth to meet Esau, having the handmaids with their children follow directly behind him, then Leah and her children, and finally Rachel and Joseph. I always feel sorry for the handmaidens' and Leah's children when I think about how they were exposed to more risk than Rachel and Joseph. Jacob no longer cheated to get what he wanted, as his name change indicated, but he still troubled his family by not loving all of them as passionately as he loved Rachel and Joseph. This probably still rankled those boys years later when they took out their anger on Joseph. If Esau was not pacified by his gifts and demonstrated violent intentions, Jacob wanted to give those whom he cherished most the best chance to get away. His servants stood ready with his instructions, if escape was needed.
Esau was softened up by the presents. Isaac's tutoring in spiritual matters and fraternal love, and years of separation from Jacob, had already cooled his wrath to the point where it could be mollified by gifts. Then he saw his brother bowing before him, rising to his feet and coming closer, bowing again. Jacob did this seven times, testing the waters, and also showing Esau's men that he was sorry for what he had done to their leader, which went a long ways towards pacifying them and not blaming Esau for letting Jacob off the hook, at least for the moment. Esau was moved by Jacob's humility that acknowledged that he had wronged him. He leaped from his mount and ran to meet him.
The brothers embraced and kissed each other over and over with weeping. It was probably the first time in their lives that they had ever shown any brotherly love to each other. Even if their personalities clashed and their values differed, Jacob and Esau were still the only brothers that each had in this big, lonely, hostile world. For the moment, Esau set aside his conviction that he was superior to Jacob and that Jacob owed him.
Then Esau noticed over Jacob's shoulder the women and children who stood waiting to meet him. With a laugh, he asked who they were, though he knew they must be Jacob's wives and children. It was incredible that this brother, whom he had always considered to be feeble and a sissy, had four wives and twelve children. And such comparatively young wives, too!
Jacob ignored Esau's insulting surprise and introduced his family. The wives and children bowed before Esau. The fourth wife was certainly a beauty, and her handsome child had a curly mop of red hair, as he'd had when he was younger. That gleaming hair was a reminder that these children were his flesh and blood, cautioning him to do them no harm.
Esau did not feel inclined any more to do physical hurt to Jacob, but his greed reasserted itself. He wanted to make sure that Jacob really intended to give him all the flocks that were presented to him as a present, so in the manner of the Middle East, he pretended to refuse them, saying that he had enough of his own. Of course, Jacob insisted that he keep them; this was expected of him, and he wanted to make sure that Esau was obligated to show him courtesy because of his gift.
Jacob spoke of how God had blessed him with wealth, and Esau could see for himself that Jacob had plenty. He invited Jacob to come live with him in Mount Seir. Jacob knew that Esau was not entirely appeased with his gift and felt that he owed him more, and probably would not be satisfied until he had shaken every last shekel out of him. That would be easier to do on his own territory, rather than if Jacob continued to the land that was to be his inheritance.
Sometimes people get themselves in a bad situation because someone flatters them and entices them to accept an invitation they should refuse, but the person does not refuse because they are a people pleaser and are afraid of hurting the other person's feelings by turning them down. Jacob wasn't worried about hurting Esau's feelings. He was shrewd and knew Esau would only feel annoyed that he didn't walk into his trap.
Jacob kept a smile on his face and said that he would follow, as he wanted to travel slowly for the sake of the children and the pregnant animals. This from a man who had driven them on like fury when Laban was at his heels. Esau offered to leave some of his men behind to help them on their journey. Jacob said there was no need; he had plenty of servants. Esau could not push it without making his intentions obvious, so he backed off and returned home, possibly expecting that Jacob would follow. Of course, he didn't. There is a difference between being a sneak and being stupid. Jacob headed into Canaan, and kept a safe distance between them. He was finally home.
1Strange Scriptures by Barbara M. Bowen, Copyright 1944, Published by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan.
2He (Jacob) had power with God: yes, he had power over the Angel, and prevailed; he wept and made supplication unto him: he found him in Bethel, and there he spake with us; even the Lord God of Hosts; The Lord is his memorial.
[Hosea 12:4 & 5]
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The Majesty of God, Chapter 16