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More Matriarchs (April 2020)

Having looked at Sarah and Rebekah, we now move on to Jacob’s wives (and ‘concubines’). Last month we left Jacob running away from Esau, who he had defrauded of his blessing, ostensibly to find a wife from his mother’s family. This time there was no camel train, no gold bracelets, only an anxious, lonely man, looking for a wife.

At the village well along came Rachel, to water her sheep. Was it love at first sight? When Jacob found out who Rachel was, he set out to win her father, Laban, round. Memory of home faded as he worked for seven years to win Rachel as his wife. They must have been very much in love; but the deceiver was deceived. Jacob woke up on the morning after his wedding to find Leah, Rachel’s older sister, in his bed. Laban, knowing he was on to a good thing, signed Jacob up for another seven years work to marry Rachel!

God blessed Leah with four sons, as He saw she was not loved by Jacob. Rachel was jealous of Leah, and took it out on Jacob. She then did what Sarah had done, and gave her servant, Bilhah, to have sons with Jacob for her, and there were two. This upset Leah, who also gave her servant, Zilpah, to Jacob and she had two sons as well. Rachel was now getting desperate. She used mandrakes, thought to be an aphrodisiac, but first she had to let Leah have another night with Jacob, who  had another two sons and also a daughter. We then read that God remembered Rachel, and at last she had a son.

By now Jacob decided that it was time for him and his growing family to return home. By some astute husbandry he had built up considerable herds, at the expense of Laban’s herds. This caused concern to Laban. Jacob told his wives their father was unhappy about this, and then told them God had told him to leave.

He packed up his large family onto camels, rounded up his herds and set off back to his father, Isaac. He had hoped to slip away unnoticed, but Laban chased after him. Meanwhile, Rachel had stolen the family gods and hidden them in her camel saddle. When Laban came looking for them, she made excuses not to get down. Jacob came to an agreement with Laban and set off to the south.

Jacob had been away twenty years, but Esau might be waiting for him. When they did eventually meet there was an agreement between them. Jacob continued south. Rachel was again pregnant. She went into labour and gave birth to another son, near Bethlehem, but died in the process. Jacob buried her there.    

He continued on to meet his father, Isaac. When Isaac died, Jacob and Esau buried him at Hebron in the tomb Abraham had bought. Leah was also buried there, and when Jacob died in Egypt his sons brought his body back to bury it there too.

The line of Jesus’ ancestors came down through Leah’s fourth son, Judah. Not the obvious first-born, but from an unloved wife. However complicated and surprising the family was, God was still in control. He doesn’t see things the way we do as He has a wider view. Each of the people in this complicated family had a role to play and God was watching over each on; so when things get complicated and we cannot see the way ahead, let us remember, in the words of the old chorus, ‘God is still on the throne, and He will remember His own. Though trials distress us and burdens oppress us, He never will leave us alone… His promise is true, He will not forget you. God is still on the throne’. 

Margaret H