The more I get into this story, the weirder it gets. To put it into context, at this point, Rachel and Leah are married to the same man, Joseph. Leah has children (6 sons and a daughter at this point) but Rachel has none. Both Rachel and Leah have given their servants to Jacob to bear his children – both have two, so four more sons. Finally, Rachel has her longed-for son, Joseph. The sisters still seem to be fighting over Jacob – as Rachel explored in last week’s post – but things are about to change. Slightly.
Everything seems to be going pretty well for Jacob – this is definitely a time of riches. If Laban (his father-in-law and employer) chooses to pay him in streaked or spotted sheep, all the ewes give birth to streaked or spotted sheep. His family is growing. His wealth is increasing. But Laban is not happy. He’s noticed that Jacob seems to be gaining his family’s wealth.
God tells Jacob to go back to the land he came from. He left there in fear, having stolen his brother’s birthright and blessing. But he is obedient to God (and perhaps he feels he has no choice, given than Laban’s sons are turning against him). What’s more striking for us is that, for the first time in many, many years, Rachel and Leah are united in their support for him.
The statement they make in verses 14-16 is striking, considering that in the previous chapter they were fighting over fertility aids. They say, in verse 16, “So do whatever God has told you.”
This is generally interpreted as a sign of Rachel and Leah’s faithfulness, and their united support of Jacob. They see Jacob’s wealth as being part of their inheritance, and they certainly feel that their father has turned his back on them – he calls them ‘foreigners’ and says he has ‘sold’ them. I can certainly understand Rachel and Leah’s anger towards their father, and their love of the man who has taken care of them, and has provided for them.
So Jacob packs up his family and their belongings, and heads off to Canaan. Rachel steals Laban’s household gods.
There’s the first weirdness. If she’s devoted to God, she knows that household gods are nonsense. So why has she stolen them? Perhaps she’s not quite as devoted as she appeared – after all, she was relying on mandrakes to help her to conceive a son. Is she ‘covering all her bases,’ if you like?
Perhaps the gods had some material value – but given the wealth that Jacob has, it seems strange that she would steal them.
Other commentators suggest that she stole them to stop Laban from worshipping them. Perhaps she even saw them as being part of her dowry, which she never received?
Whatever her motivation, she is prepared to humiliate and embarrass herself in order to protect them. She lies, and tells her father and husband that she is having her period, so that she does not have to stand up, and therefore can hide the gods under her skirt. This is the second weirdness.
I have to say, it’s fairly difficult to be sympathetic for Rachel here, without understanding her motivation. Even though I’ve spent time putting myself in her shoes this week, I still feel that this shows more of her manipulative and weak character rather than being an example of living by faith.
But I was challenged by some of the comments and thoughts in our Mummy Meditations community.
Firstly, how often do we take matters into our own hands – or turn to idols -rather than trusting God? If Rachel does have idols as ‘back up’ if her prayers to God aren’t heard, what can we learn from this? Do we turn to idols? Perhaps food? Money? Possessions? Rather than the comfort of God.
There’s a difference – and it’s a fine line to walk in my experience – between being a good steward of your money, and putting your faith in money. There’s a fine line between celebrating God’s provision of good food and finding comfort and security in food. The same can be said for possessions or even relationships.
God must come first. For me, that’s a constant discipline, and, like Rachel, I don’t always get it right. I rely on my own strength and ignorance instead of resting in his love and wisdom. But, like for Rachel, there is always grace and forgiveness.
Next week is our penultimate week looking at Rachel and Leah, and Rachel will be leading the discussion in our Mummy Meditations facebook group. We’ll be focusing on Genesis 33:2, when Jacob arrives in Canaan: He put the female servants and their children in front, Leah and her children next, and Rachel and Joseph in the rear.