Friday, November 2, 2018

Genesis 29:31-35


Horatio Spafford planned a vacation for his family to England. Because of a business meeting, he sent his wife and their four daughters ahead of him on a ship called the Ville de Havre.

Midway across the Atlantic, the ship tragically collided with another vessel. In less than 15 minutes, the Ville de Havre sunk. The Spafford's four daughters were among the 266 passengers on the ship who perished. Anna, however, miraculously survived. Upon her rescue she telegrammed her husband two words: "Saved alone."

Immediately boarding the next ship out of New York, Horatio Spafford left to join his grieving wife. In close proximity to where the Ville de Havre had met with disaster, Spafford penned these words: "When peace like a river attendeth my way,/ When sorrows like sea billows roll;/ Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,/ It is well, it is well, with my soul."

The words to the hymn It is Well remind us to Whom we must look amid the many storms of our lives. In some ways it helps to form the same message that a young woman named Leah eventually embraces.

Reading in Genesis 29:31-35 about Leah naming her first four sons may seem inconsequential on the surface. Yet, the circumstances surrounding those births and the names of those sons reveal an important lesson for us in our faith journey.

Genesis 27:33 reminds us that Isaac intended to bless his oldest son Esau in accordance with Hebrew tradition, only Jacob tricked his father out of the blessing. In the midst of this deception, Isaac all but says, This is not what I deserve.

Jacob's trickery would arouse Esau's anger, forcing Jacob to flee from his family home to go live with his uncle Laban. Since Jacob was a Mama's boy and Esau was a burly hunter, Jacob rightfully feared his older brother.

Much to Jacob's delight, once he arrived to Haran he fell in love with Laban's youngest daughter Rachel. He agreed to work 7 years for Rachel's hand in marriage. After 7 years of hard work, Jacob's night for marriage came. With a thick veil over his bride's face, he took his vows.

Much to Jacob's chagrin, Genesis 29:25 highlights that he awoke to find Leah at his side. Laban told Jacob that Jewish custom demanded the older daughter marry before the younger one (Gen. 29:26). The trickster Jacob had been tricked, and from his tremendous disappointment he all but says: This is not what I deserve.

Jacob had worked hard with something in mind only to be disappointed. It is this disappointment that proves to have devastating results for Leah.

Think about it. Laban had given his oldest daughter's hand in marriage to a man who loved her younger sister. Worse yet, just one week later, Laban allows Jacob to marry Rachel in exchange for 7 more years of labor (Gen. 29:27-28). This was Leah's circumstance; consequently, she was always seeking after the love of her husband.

Women in that culture dealt with different challenges than women in today's Western society. A Hebrew woman's identity was wrapped up in marriage, and she brought honor to her husband by bearing him children (especially sons).

While Jacob's preferred wife Rachel was barren, God opened Leah's womb. She first has Reuben, whose name means "Behold, a son." Then she has another son, whom she calls Simeon or "God has heard." Next, she bears a son whom she names Levi, meaning "Attached."

"Behold a son - love me!" ... "God has heard my plight - love me!" ... "Another son for you - love me, attach yourself to me!"

Yet, despite giving Jacob three sons, he was not attached to Leah. His heart was for Rachel, and Leah was devastated. It seems reasonable enough that Leah would all but say, This is not what I deserve.

A former high school student that I taught and who also participated in a Bible study group that my wife and I led could certainly relate to the type of devastation Leah must have felt. During his senior year, the student lost his mother to cancer. That in and of itself is severe, but his senior year worsened.

The night before he was scheduled to leave on a Spring Break trip with his two best friends, the young man suffered a freak accident playing on an inflated bounce castle. The accident required surgeons to perform emergency life-threatening surgery to repair a ruptured artery. Instead of skiing in Colorado, he recovered in a hospital bed watching DVDs with me.

That's not all. This young man had always dreamed of following in the footsteps of his father and his brother by attending the West Point Academy. He had received word of his acceptance in February; now, due to the severity of his injury, West Point would no longer admit him.

Reuben - not what I deserve. Simeon - not what I deserve. Levi - not what I deserve.

But this is where we come to Leah's fourth son, whose name means "Praise." It does not seem at this particular point in her life that Leah puts her hopes or her identity or her central desire in the love of her husband. Here, Leah just says, "God be praised."

Perhaps this blog entry is written for you. Maybe you are hurting because you feel like your hopes have been crushed. I think of the many friends I know who have endured one or more miscarriages. Maybe you are hurting because your identity has been brought into question. I think of former students who were emotionally damaged by mean-spirited posts put up about them on social media. Maybe you are hurting because your heart has been broken. I think of men and women who have endured a divorce not of their own choosing.

Everyone has felt his or her own doses of devastation, but I pray that our circumstances - whatever they may be - do not end in a spirit of devastation. The central lesson for us from Leah's devastating experience emerges from the birth and naming of her fourth son Judah.

It is, after all, from the line of Judah that Jesus Christ came and lived a sinless life only to die a sinner's death. It is, after all, from the line of Judah that Jesus Christ conquered the grave as risen Lord.

Salvation emerges beyond the ashes from this story in Genesis that involves deception and disappointment and devastation. And salvation can emerge beyond even the ashes of our own stories.

Yes, "God be praised," the penalty I owe, Jesus paid. The death I am due, Jesus overcame. This is not what I deserve.

That's why Horatio Spafford could write amid his inexplicable devastation: "My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought/ My sin, not in part but the whole,/ Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,/ Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul."

Can you sing that today?


Write out a short prayer that you could say amid challenging seasons of your life to remind you to yet trust and praise God:



from Best Devotional Commentary - "The fourth son was called Judah, which means 'praise.' By this time, Leah had stopped seeing the birth of sons as a means by which her husband's love could be gained and instead merely praised God for the birth of the children.
     ... God changed Leah. He gave her grace to live in a less-than-perfect situation. He multiplied her joy in childbirth. He gave her sons who became the fathers of the greatest Jewish tribes. Levi was the father of the priests. Judah was the father of the tribe through which the Messiah came. Is that not interesting? The Lord Jesus Christ was not born of the line that came from Rachel, even though she was the one Jacob loved. He came from Leah" (Boice).  

from Best Academic Commentary - "This episode of the birth of Jacob's sons culminates with the birth of Joseph (30:24), which is the cue for Jacob to return home (30:25). This episode, which in fact spans about seven years, lies right at the center of the Laban-Jacob narrative and of the whole Jacob cycle itself. It presupposes all that has gone before, most obviously Jacob's flight to Haran and his involuntary bigamous marriage to Leah and Rachel. Here the unhappy tensions caused by that relationship are displayed most poignantly; the whole episode is governed by Leah's longing for Jacob's love and Rachel's craving for children. Leah's frequent pregnancies only aggravate Rachel's frustration at her own childlessness. But Leah's success in producing offspring leaves her deeply disappointed, for, far from drawing her husband closer to her, it leads her to be excluded from the marriage bed, so that only Rachel has access to Jacob. These dark passions govern the whole narrative, most obviously in Rachel's appeal to Jacob for children (30:1-2) and in Leah's trading mandrakes for sex (30:14-16), but also in the names given to the children, nearly all of which comment on the relationships between the sisters and their husband" (Wenham).

from runner-up to Best Preaching/Teaching Commentary - "Leah, the unwanted and unloved wife, gives birth to the forebears of four important tribes in Israel. Moses and Aaron would be born in the tribe of Levi; the Lord would choose the Levites to serve Him in His temple. David would be born in the tribe of Judah; the Lord would choose the royal line of kings from the tribe of Judah. As later Israel read the story of Laban's deception and Jacob's wrong choices, they would have become aware of a deep mystery: their sovereign Lord can fulfill His promises even through human deception and scheming" (Greidanus).

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