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Monday, 16 October 2006

Jacob's polygamy: Genesis 29

15th October 2006
Evening Praise
Strange stories part 5

Jacob’s polygamy.

Genesis 29:31-30:25
God created Adam to be in relationship firstly with Himself and secondly with woman. This was to be a special relationship as is illustrated by the fact that God made Eve from part of Adam. The significance of what God did in creating Eve from Adam’s side and then giving instructions of how to live together as husband and wife suggest that from the beginning God designed man to be married to one woman and vice-versa. God told Adam and Eve that at the right time a man must leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife. That word cleave suggests a strong relationship or bond together. The man is to give up his existing family ties and take up role as head of a new household, no longer tied to the apron strings of his own Mother. Interestingly modern comedy pokes fun at the man’s mother-in-law but by observation I have come to a conclusions that more often than not if there is any interference within a marriage from in-laws it is more likely to be from the man’s mother. That is my observation which you may choose to dispute but the point that I am making is that God intended that man and woman have a very special relationship together without outside interference from anybody especially parents and also other men or women.
Adam recognised this I believe when he named Eve, he had named the animals previously and found no soul mate there but when God brought Eve to him it was very different. He said this “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called “woman” for she was taken out of man.” We could say that Adam was waxing lyrical in the way he spoke. It is possibly the first poem written and was inspired by the sight of a woman who was unique to him and now in special relationship with him alone. The whole account suggests that God intended man to be monogamous.
As the bible develops and God reveals more of Himself and His requirements of man it becomes clear that God expects marriage to be pure, wholesome and between one man and one woman! When we get to the New Testament we are told the reason why. Our relationship in marriage echoes God’s relationship with His people. His people are revealed to be the church which is often especially in Revelation referred to as the bride of Christ. Marriage is unique in God’s eyes and should be for us also. Sadly man throughout history has denigrated marriage and made it to be a second rate and disposable relationship. So what does God think of wrong relationships within marriage? Can there ever be blessing for those who fail in their marriages? These are vital questions that we can begin to explore through the account that we read of Jacob.
We should be fair to Jacob as we look into his story. We could have examined any number of great men in the Old Testament and considered the issue of multiple relationships within marriage. We could have considered Abraham, David, Solomon etc. but Jacob’s story is helpful to us. It is a strange story in that the offspring from 4 women (2 wives and 2 servant girls) are the fathers of the tribes that make up the nation of Israel who are the people in the Old Testament that God referred to as His special nation. This in turn begs the question “if God is against multiple relationships how can He claim Israel as a special people and how can He bless either Jacob or his sons when they are born in such strange and sinful circumstances?”
Let us step back from the result for a while and consider the facts. God had promised that Jacob would be the father of a mighty nation. His offspring would be the foundation of that nation. He had 12 sons who would form the 12 tribes of Israel. Within Israel because it was to be a theocracy (ruled by God!) there needed to be a priestly line that would be the link between man and God. Levy; Jacob’s third son would be the forefather of the priesthood. Levy was born to Leah who was Jacob’s first wife whom he never loved and was duped into marrying. How can such a relationship be blessed by God and can He really speak to His people through a family with such dubious beginnings?
Jacob’s other 11 sons would become the forefathers of the 12 tribes. (Joseph through his sons Manasseh and Ephraim became the forefather of two lesser tribe of Israel!)
A problem that is constantly before us is that the nation of Israel (God’s people) came from such a dysfunctional family as Jacob’s.

A look at the family:
Jacob worked for Laban, in exchange for 7 years wages he would gain Rachel as his wife. The 7 years passed quickly due to his great love for Rachel At this point we come to a cultural problem. Rachel’s older and less attractive sister Leah is still unmarried. Laban does not want Rachel to be married before her sister and so he on the wedding night swaps Leah for Rachel. I will not pretend to know how that could happen but Laban got away with it. When Jacob woke up he discovered the deception. An arrangement was made that for a second 7 years wages then Jacob could marry Rachel also after Leah had been allowed a honeymoon period of 7 days. This is what happened hence Jacob has been tricked into a wrong marriage and now had entered into a bigamous relationship. God certainly had not prescribed it but He had allowed it to happen. Can there be any blessing?
As with all such relationships tensions soon came to the fore. Rachel was loved; Leah was lonely and unloved. It is here that we see the grace of God shining through. Leah needed someone to love and so God it says opened her womb and she conceived and gave birth to first Reuben followed by Simeon, Levy and Judah. Leah is somewhat fulfilled and gloating! This gives rise to jealousy in Rachel; she is barren and does not have a child to hold and to love. There is no mention that she or Jacob cry out to God in prayer but what she does is takes a leaf out of her grandmothers book. Sarah had offered her maidservant to Abraham to father a child through; when she was unable to conceive. Rachel offered Bilhah to Jacob who willingly slept with her and she became the surrogate mother of Dan and then Naphtali.
There are now 6 sons born to Jacob through 2 women but 3 relationships!
The birth of the boys causes Rachel to gloat over her apparent success. She named the first child Dan because it means vindicated and so was saying to Leah; God has vindicated me at last. She named Naphtali because it means struggle and she believed that her struggle now was over.
Leah had not conceived for a while and became jealous of Rachel and so “what you can do I can do better” Leah gave Zilpah her maidservant to Jacob who again willingly slept with her fathering Gad which means good fortune and Asher meaning happy. From the names given we can see the “one-upmanship” that existed between the now 4 women in the relationship. It is these names that are the continuing tribal names of God’s people Israel!
There are now 8 sons born to Jacob through 3 women but 4 relationships!
A strange story indeed; how can God bless in such circumstances? After some jiggery-pokery using mandrakes as a kind of aphrodisiac and fertility enhancer Leah again conceives and believing that God had rewarded her names the child Issachar and then was “gifted of God” with another son named Zebulon. She also had a daughter named Dinah at this time.
There are now 10 sons of Jacob now still through 3 women but 4 relationships!
Up until now Rachel had not conceived and clearly surrogate motherhood was not enough. The account tells us that God heard her prayer and she also conceived and gave birth to Joseph and much later to Benjamin of whom she died giving birth to.
These are the 12 sons of Jacob who would form the nation of Israel, who are God’s people but they come from his relationship with 4 different women!
Can there be any blessing through such strange circumstances? For us to understand we have to first consider the sinfulness of man. We are all tainted with sin and therefore for God to bless anything that we do He has to bless by grace alone because none of us is worthy of His approval for anything that we do!
Secondly we have to view sin from God’s perspective rather than from ours. To us sin is graded, some things that we do are far more wrong than others. This is right for us but sin to God is all things that are not for his glory. Therefore to Him adultery is equally as bad as taking a piece of paper from work! We might not understand that but to God it is absolute. This means that in order for Him to bless us in anything then by His grace He has to allow certain wrongs to pass by. I suppose it is like a parent that has to deal with the big issues in a child’s life rather than picking on every little thing. God did not approve of Jacob’s ways but He did by grace use the offspring of his relationships to build a nation of such great significance that they are the forerunner of an even greater nation, which is the church.
The church did not come about by a wrong relationship but through the only perfect man that ever lived. The Lord Jesus Christ sacrificed Himself in order that His people might be born again. He also had 12 men (the Apostles) that would be the foundation. They would be spiritual fathers to a great nation that would have more than a special land; they would become related to God through faith and therefore would enter into His land, which is heaven. Where Jacob failed Jesus triumphed. To be a descendant of Jacob you had to belong to the family line or be adopted into the family. It is the same with the church. There is only One Son who belongs by right; that is Jesus but there are many adopted in. They are all who by faith believe in Jesus and trust in the perfect sacrifice He made on the cross in order that sin might be dealt with and sinners might find forgiveness, acceptance by God and adoption into His family. The alternative is to remain outside of the family of God and ultimately to be refused entry into His Kingdom.

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