The Improbable But Providential Will of God

31 When the Lord saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren. 32 And Leah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Reuben, for she said, “Because the Lord has looked upon my affliction; for now my husband will love me.” 33 She conceived again and bore a son, and said, “Because the Lord has heard that I am hated, he has given me this son also.” And she called his name Simeon. 34 Again she conceived and bore a son, and said, “Now this time my husband will be attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.” Therefore his name was called Levi. 35 And she conceived again and bore a son, and said, “This time I will praise the Lord.” Therefore she called his name Judah. Then she ceased bearing. 

1 When Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, she envied her sister. She said to Jacob, “Give me children, or I shall die!” Jacob’s anger was kindled against Rachel, and he said, “Am I in the place of God, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?” Genesis 29:31-30:2 ESV

Verses 31 flatly states that Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah. Having allowed Laban to trick him into marrying Rachel’s older sister, Jacob found himself struggling to display any signs of affection for his unexpected and unwanted wife. In the same way that his mother had shown favoritism for him over his brother, Esau, Jacob poured out all his attention and affection on Rachel. She was the only one he had ever wanted. Leah was nothing more than a burden and a constant reminder of Laban’s treachery. Her very presence must have rubbed Jacob the wrong way. But while Leah was avoided like the plague by her new husband, God chose to see her affliction and show her affection.

the Lord saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren. – Genesis 29:31 ESV

Once again, we see the sovereign God of the universe inserting Himself into human affairs and orchestrating the fulfillment of His divine will. None of this is a knee-jerk reaction on God’s part. He had not been caught off guard or surprised by the actions of Laban. When Jacob had woken up the morning after his wedding night and found himself lying next to Leah, he had been shocked. But not God.

Laban must have been proud over how he had pulled a fast one on the unsuspecting Jacob. He had tricked the younger man into marrying his older and less-attractive daughter. And having successfully secured her future, Laban had been more than willing to let Jacob have Rachel as well. After all, his little trick had netted him 14 years of free labor from the gullible and easily manipulated Jacob.

It seems clear from the context, that Jacob intended to raise a family through Rachel. But there was a problem. She was barren. Like her mother-in-law, Rebekah, and her grandmother-in-law, Sarah, Rachel was unable to bear children. Jacob was operating under the impression that Rachel was to be the vehicle through which all the promises concerning offspring would come. Jacob remembered the words of his father, Isaac, spoken as he was preparing to go in search of a wife.

“God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you, that you may become a company of peoples.” – Genesis 28:3 ESV

He also recalled the vision he had in Bethel and the words that God had spoken to him.

“The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.” – Genesis 28:13-14 ESV

But despite all the promises, Jacob was facing a bleak future because he had a barren wife. How were any of these promises to come true if Rachel couldn’t bear children? Yet, what Jacob failed to realize was that he had two wives for a very good reason. It had been the will of God. And while Jacob despised Leah, God had great plans for her.

Leah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Reuben, for she said, “Because the Lord has looked upon my affliction; for now my husband will love me.” – Genesis 29:32 ESV

The woman whom Jacob never wanted was the one to give Jacob that which he most desired: A son. And she was far from done. In seemingly rapid succession, Leah produced four sons for Jacob: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah. And the fact that she kept getting pregnant would clearly suggest that Jacob had changed his attitude toward her. All during this time, Rachel remained incapable of bearing Jacob any children, so he turned his attention to the more obviously fruitful older sister. With each new pregnancy and birth, Leah revealed her great desire that Jacob would truly love her.

At the birth of Reuben, she stated, “The Lord has noticed my misery, and now my husband will love me” (Genesis 29:32 NLT). But despite providing Jacob with a son, she still felt rejected by him, because at the birth of Simeon she declared, “The Lord heard that I was unloved and has given me another son” (Genesis 29:33 NLT). Yet, even with the birth of Levi, Leah was still waiting for some sign that Jacob loved her.

“Surely this time my husband will feel affection for me, since I have given him three sons!” – Genesis 29:34 NLT

It seems that Jacob’s interest in Leah was purely utilitarian in nature. She was effective in producing sons and heirs, but this apparently failed to elicit any signs of affection from Jacob. He gladly welcomed each new son into the world, but still treated Leah as a second-class citizen.

But something happened with the birth of her fourth son. When Judah came into the world, she declared, “Now I will praise the Lord!” (Genesis 29:35 NLT). Judah’s name means “praised,” and reflects Leah’s gratitude to God for His gracious provision of four healthy sons. She recognized that each of her pregnancies had been the handiwork of God and an expression of His love for her. While Jacob remained aloof and reticent to display love and affection for her, Leah knew that her fruitfulness had been a gracious gift from God. And, as the text makes clear, with Judah’s birth, Leah “ceased bearing” (Genesis 29:35 ESV).

Leah wasn’t done having children, but there is a pronounced and obvious break between the delivery of Judah and that of her next son. If you take the time to study the family tree of Jesus found in the opening chapter of the book of Matthew, you will find the name of Judah.

Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram, and Ram the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king. – Matthew 1:2-6 ESV

Judah is the only one of the 12 sons of Jacob to be mentioned in the genealogy because it was through his line that Jesus came. This fourth son of Jacob, born to the unwanted older daughter of Laban, would be the conduit through whom the promised Messiah would come into the world. It was not through Rachel, the favorite wife of Jacob. In fact, while Leah had been busy bearing sons for Jacob, Rachel had remained completely incapable of even conceiving an heir for her husband. And this situation left her angry and resentful of her older sister.

When Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, she envied her sister. She said to Jacob, “Give me children, or I shall die!” – Genesis 30:1 ESV

This response reveals a great deal about Rachel. She comes across as a petulant and spoiled woman who was used to getting her way. And the ludicrous demand she makes of Jacob further reflects her naturally controlling nature. She didn’t like her circumstances and she was expecting Jacob to do something about it. She even seems to be threatening to kill herself if she doesn’t get her way. But Jacob is angered by the unjustified blame she has heaped on him. It wasn’t his fault she could not bear children. In his mind, it was the hand of God. And yet, what is noticeably missing in all of this is any sign that either Jacob or Rachel took this matter to the Lord. There are no prayers lifted up. No cries for assistance are uttered. Neither Jacob nor his wife bothers to take the situation to the throne of God. He seems content to rely upon the child-bearing capabilities of Leah. And Rachel seems resigned to passing blame and demanding her way. And as the story unfolds, Rachel will take a page out of Sarah’s playbook and come up with a solution to her own problem. Rather than call on God, she will choose to play god and right what she believes to be an injustice.

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