Genesis 30 starts with Rachel yelling at Jacob. Her sister, and Jacob’s first wife, Leah has had four boys and yet she hasn’t had one. Desperate times call for desperate measures. Rachel tells Jacob to sleep with her servant and if SHE has a child, Rachel will take that child as hers. These Old Testament morals are so alien to our so-called civilised way of thinking, aren’t they?
So Rachel’s servant has two boys. Rachel is overjoyed. She is in competition with Leah and catching her up! Leah can’t have any more children, so gets Jacob to marry HER servant. and, what do you know, she has two sons too!
Just in case you’ve lost count, and who wouldn’t, Jacob now has 8 sons through three of his four wives. Now Leah’s son Reuben was out in the field one day and came across some mandrakes. He harvested them for his mother, but Rachel wanted some. (In case you’re wondering – as I did – where you’ve heard of mandrakes before… it’s a plant in the Harry Potter series. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mandrake_(plant) The plant is said to have “magical” properties.) Well, Leah didn’t want to share them with Rachel, “You stole my husband” she says, not altogether accurately. Rachel tells Leah that if she gives her some of the mandrakes, she will let Jacob sleep with Leah. And, (fanfare) this in turn leads to Leah giving birth to two more sons and a daughter.
And finally, God “remembers” Rachel and she has a son, Joseph.
We’re still in Genesis 30 and Jacob has only got 11 sons. We know there’s one more to come, and if you remember the song, we know who he will be. But don’t rush. Andrew Lloyd-Webber has much to answer for! Including the massive chunks of the story which he couldn’t fit into the 90 minute musical!
Jacob longs to go back to his homeland. Remember he is still living with Laban, Isaac’s brother-in-law. He tries to strike a deal with Laban, but Jacob’s family and their hard work in the fields have helped make Laban very rich indeed. So he will try anything to get Jacob to stay. They make a deal. Jacob will take all the spotted sheep and goats as payment. The plain white ones can stay with Laban. And so the flocks will be divided fairly. They both agree.
But while Jacob is away, Laban has all the speckled and spotted animals removed to another field. However, Jacob also has a plan. He puts certain plants in the water trough. When the animals mate, their young are speckled and spotted. And so, despite Laban’s efforts, Jacob increased his own flock. Not only that, but his flock was stronger. And so he became even wealthier.
This couldn’t go on. Sure enough (Genesis 31) Laban’s sons complain that their flock is growing weaker and Jacob is robbing their father. God tells Jacob to return to Isaac. And not before time, if you ask me. Jacob explains what has happened to Leah and Rachel and tells them that they must all go back. “That’s fine with us.” they say, “We won’t inherit our father’s wealth anyway.”
So what are we to make of all this. It’s an incredibly detailed and perhaps a bit (dare I say?) fanciful account of Jacob and his growing family. It’s a story of twists and turns, he is cheated by Laban and he also cheats his father when he pretended to be Esau. The scope is almost Shakespearean in the way the motives of the characters are brought into question. Has Jacob always done the right thing? Well… I think not. But God is still on his side because he is doing the wrong things for the right reasons!
Let’s look at Matthew 10. It’s Jesus’ great commission. We are introduced to his disciples and then he gives them their instructions. And it’s very specific. Now some people have interpreted this literally, and I would not criticise them for that. But I see it as Jesus stressing the urgency. “Don’t take money… don’t carry a bag…” So this is to be done now. Like the man who asked to bury his father first. There’s no time. But what are they (we) to do?
“Search for a worthy person.” And then what? A-ha! If you look carefully, that’s not what Jesus is saying. Read it again. He says a lot about what will happen to the unworthy, but nothing about what to do once we find a worthy person. “I am sending you out as sheep among wolves.” It’s a dangerous world, we know that. But we have to face it head-on. “A brother will betray his brother” Shades of Genesis, here. There are lots of cases of brothers betraying one another. If we widen it to mean spiritual brothers, then who are we to trust? “All the nations will hate you because you are my followers. But everyone who endures to the end will be saved.” It’s not going to be an easy ride. This is something Jesus has said before. If we are looking for consolation, we should look elsewhere because this path is not a smooth one.
Psalm 12 is a cry for protection against lies and it has some words of comfort. “The faithful have vanished from the earth!” Not quite yet! “Neighbours lie to each other!” Yes, we’ve heard it daily and we read about in the newspapers. The deceitful people say, “We will lie to our heart’s content… who can stop us?” But here’s the thing: “The Lord’s promises are pure, like silver refined in a furnace.” And what has he promised? “I will rise up and rescue [the poor].”
There’s a strong link between the Psalm and Proverbs (3:13-15) today. “Joyful is the person who finds wisdom… Wisdom is more profitable than silver.” Even silver which has been refined. And in Genesis we learnt the importance of wealth and profit for Jacob and his family. But wisdom and joy go hand-in-hand.