************ Sermon on Genesis 30:22-31:21 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on October 20, 2013
"God Remembered Rachel"
A small town had historically been "dry" – that is, no alcohol, until a local businessman decided to build a bar. A group of Christians from a local church were concerned and planned an all-night prayer meeting to ask God to intervene. It just so happened that shortly after lightning struck the bar and it burned to the ground. The owner of the bar sued the church, claiming that the prayers of the congregation were responsible, but the church hired a lawyer to argue in court that they were not responsible. The presiding judge, after his initial review of the case, stated that "no matter how this case comes out, one thing is clear. The tavern owner believes in prayer and the Christians do not."
The same judge can say almost the same thing about our Bible reading: "It is clear pagan Laban believes in God's sovereignty while Jacob the servant of God does not."
We see God's sovereignty in three different areas: first, in the birth of children; second, in coming and going; third, in wealth and riches.
I God's Sovereignty in the Birth of Children
A Our Scripture reading begins with Rachel: "Then God remembered Rachel; he listened to her and opened her womb. She became pregnant and gave birth to a son" (Gen 30:22-23). Within its context, these two verses shout to us about the sovereignty of God.
First, as we read Genesis 29-31, we cannot help but be encouraged by the dysfunctional families God used to establish His people. Why should this encourage us? Because we know that our Creator also graciously uses imperfect families today to advance His church and Kingdom, just as He has in the past. Though the Lord is more than able to use sin to advance His purposes yet we still need to repent.
It is clear that Jacob's family is filled with dysfunction. It started with the jealousy between Leah and Rachel – a jealousy that had been simmering for years. Remember what we learned last time? We learned that Jacob never intended to marry Leah. We learned that Rachel was the pretty one and Jacob loved her more than her sister (Gen 29:17,30).
This sibling rivalry would finally produce the nation of Israel, and ultimately, the Messiah. Thanks be to God – as I already said – that He can sovereignly use the faults of His children to bring salvation and life into the world.
B Second, it was Leah who had children while Rachel was barren. Rachel's response was jealousy and even desperation as she cried out to her husband instead of to God (Gen 30:1,2).
So what does Rachel do? She gives her servant Bilhah to Jacob to bear sons for herself (Gen 30:3-8). When Moses recites this sad story, the children of Israel can only listen with amazement because they know the problems this produced when Sarah did something similar. Obviously, Rachel is not acting in faith. Then Leah followed her lead, giving her maid Zilpah to Jacob, in an attempt to stay ahead of Rachel (Gen 30:9-13).
The tension and sibling rivalry comes to a head when Rachel requested the mandrakes Reuben found for his mother Leah during the wheat harvest. The mandrake is a rare and valuable plant, highly desired in many cultures because of a superstitious belief that it promotes fertility, the bearing of children. At this point in time, Rachel has not borne any children and Leah finds herself to be temporarily infertile, and both are seeking a cure in the mandrake (Gen 29:31; 30:9). Ironically, the blessing of fertility comes not to the one who ate the "magical fruit," but to the one who gave it away. By this act, the Lord shows His people that their superstitions are worthless.
So let me ask, as we look at this competition to bear children, who gets the credit when children are born. Is it the mandrakes? Is it Leah and Rachel? Is it Jacob?
The message of Genesis is that children come from the Lord. As the psalmist puts it, "Sons are a heritage from the Lord, children a reward from him" (Ps 127:3). So Scripture makes clear that it is God Who opened Leah's womb (Gen 29:31). And, it is God Who kept Rachel from having children (Gen 30:2).
After years of strife and conflict and jealousy and rivalry, the two ladies seemed to realize this because they both prayed to God about this. I doubt if they prayed together. And, maybe Leah and Rachel were merely trying to cover all the bases when they prayed. Yet, Scripture tells us that "God listened to Leah, and she became pregnant and bore Jacob a fifth son" (Gen 30:17). And, today, we are told that "God remembered Rachel; he listened to her and opened her womb. She became pregnant and gave birth to a son" (Gen 30:22-23).
It is God Who is sovereign over the birth of children. It is God Who sovereignly pours out His blessings. Meaning what? Meaning that apart from His blessing there would be no children. Meaning that we must accept the truth that God dispenses His benefits in the way He sees fit. Meaning that, unlike Rachel, we must not grow jealous of what God sovereignly gives to others. Meaning that Rachel – and Leah – were wrong in trying to manipulate the results. Meaning that no matter what Rachel tried to do with her maidservants and mandrakes, Leah was always going to have more children than she. Meaning that God's compassion blesses us even when we don't deserve it.
C Third, did you notice how our Scripture reading begins? We are told God "remembered" Rachel and she bore a son (Gen 30:22). Don't understand this to mean that God "forgot" Rachel. Our almighty and all-knowing and all-seeing God never forgets anyone or anything. Our God Whose eye is on the sparrow, our God Who counts the hairs of our head, saw Rachel's hurt and pain as a barren woman. God "remembered" Rachel. This means He sovereignly answered her prayers in His way and in His time.
And, notice this, God remembered Rachel in spite of her failures. In spite of her lack of faith. In spite of her superstitions. In spite of her sin-filled rivalry with her sister. Because there is forgiveness with God.
I want you to realize that God "remembered" more than Rachel. Do you remember Isaac's parting blessing to Jacob before Jacob took off for Uncle Laban? "May God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and increase your numbers until you become a community of peoples" (Gen 28:3). Now, how many sons does Jacob have with the birth of Joseph to Rachel? Scripture has recorded for us the birth of eleven sons and one daughter.
God's promise through Isaac was "a community of peoples." What the Hebrew word has in view is not an international community like the United Nations; for, as you well know, each nation in the U.N. continually does its utmost to protect its own interests and well-being. Nor does the Hebrew have in mind a brotherhood like that of Isaac and Ishmael or of Jacob and Esau, with one brother continually in the other brother's face in an enmity that stretches down through the generations. What God promised to Jacob is nothing less than the beginning of the nation of Israel: a true community of brothers dwelling together in unity. In fact, we may even say that God promises the beginning of the community of the church.
In the birth of Joseph and his brothers we see that Almighty God "remembered" His promise to Jacob. Yet we all know from experience that many times brothers and sisters do not dwell together in unity in a fallen world. However, it remains God's promise and God's goal for His people. In light of this, we all need to ask what we are doing to keep the communion of saints.
And, there is more that God remembers. God remembers our hurts and pains and frustrations as well. He is a God Who is answering even before we are asking. He is a God Who hears a word before it is even on our tongue. He is a God Who never leaves us or forsakes us. And, as with Rachel – and Leah and Jacob and Abraham and Isaac and Rebekah – He remembers us in spite of our sin. God has blessed us sinners with His sovereign love.
II God's Sovereignty in Coming and Going
A We need to go back, for a moment, to Jacob's mother. There is no doubt she had a strong personality. Today, we would classify her as having an "A" type personality. She was a take-charge kind of woman. One of those women you don't want to cross.
So, remember how she ordered Jacob and servants around so the blessing would go to her favorite son? Remember how she manipulated her husband? Remember how she spoke to Isaac about her disgust with Esau's wives? Remember how she decided to send Jacob away? Remember how she made arrangements for Jacob to go to her brother Laban?
Rebekah was in charge. There is no doubt about it.
Now, do you remember Rebekah's final words to Jacob? This is what Scripture tells us:
(Gen 27:42-45) "Your brother Esau is consoling himself with the thought of killing you. (43) Now then, my son, do what I say: Flee at once to my brother Laban in Haran. (44) Stay with him for a while until your brother's fury subsides. (45) When your brother is no longer angry with you and forgets what you did to him, I'll send word for you to come back from there."Notice all of her commands? "Do what I say." "Flee." "Stay." "I'll send word for you to come back."
Again, Rebekah was in charge.
In our Bible reading Jacob said to Laban, "Send me on my way so I can go back to my own homeland" (Gen 30:25). Does this mean Rebekah sent word to Jacob? After all, Rebekah had said, "I'll send word for you to come back." I searched through the middle section of Genesis. I looked in vain for a word from Rebekah to Jacob. I broadened my search to Rebekah herself. Did you know she is never mentioned in Genesis again until a passing reference to Mamre in Genesis 49 as her burial place.
"I'll send word for you to come back." But we never hear from her again. We never see her again.
B If his mother did not call Jacob to go back home, why did Jacob go back?
Was this Jacob's decision? If so, why did he ask Laban to send him on his way? If so, why did he work another 6 years for Laban?
Was it Laban who decided it was time for Jacob to leave? If so, why did Jacob sneak away when Laban was gone to sheer his sheep? If so, why did Laban chase after Jacob?
Rebekah thought she was in charge. She wasn't. Jacob thought he was in charge. He wasn't. Laban thought he was in charge. He wasn't.
So who was in charge? Why did Jacob leave? Listen to what Scripture says:
(Gen 31:3) Then the LORD said to Jacob, "Go back to the land of your fathers and to your relatives, and I will be with you."It was the Lord Who called Jacob to go back to the Promised Land. It was and is the Lord Who is in charge. It is the Lord Who is sovereign and bids people and kings and nations to come and go.
Like Rebekah and Jacob and Laban, we may foolishly think we are in charge. But even the greatest of men are but nothing next to our God. Listen to how Isaiah puts this:
(Is 40:18, 22-23, 15) To whom, then, will you compare God? ... (22) He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in. (23) He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing ... (15) Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are regarded as dust on the scales; he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust.Did you hear that? We are but grasshoppers – something you step on. As for princes and rulers – they are nothing. And nations – they are a drop in a bucket; who counts individual drops in a whole bucket of water?
And yet we pretend to be in charge. How laughable. How ridiculous.
The God Who called Jacob to go home is also the God Who has put each one of us in the place we find ourselves today. He directs our lives, our careers, our businesses, our dairies, our homes, our families, our churches, our health. The only question is, do we follow His leading or do we fight and resist – and end up in the same place anyway with lots of bumps and bruises along the way?
God is in charge. He is sovereign. Not you. Not me.
III God's Sovereignty in Wealth and Riches
A In looking at Leah and Rachel and Jacob we see that God is sovereign over the birth of children. In looking at Rebekah and Jacob we see that God is sovereign over our coming and going.
But what about prosperity and poverty? That is the third issue addressed by our Scripture reading.
Laban claimed to know the answer: "I have learned by divination that the Lord has blessed me because of you" (Gen 30:27).
"I have learned by divination." In other words, it wasn't obvious. Laban had to be told. It had to be revealed to him. Kind of a put-down, isn't it?! Here Jacob had worked and sweated and toiled and labored for 14 years and, yet, Laban claims to be told through divination – a way condemned by God.
What did Laban learn? "That the Lord has blessed me because of you." Strange, isn't it? Strange that secular, heathen, unbelieving Laban suddenly believes in the providence and sovereignty of God. I call this a convenient belief in sovereignty.
B Jacob's answer comes down to this: "You know. O Laban, you did not need to be told. You did not need divination. Because you saw. I kept you busy counting all your sheep and goats. You know how they increased in my care. You know what I have done for you."
Isn't this strange? The Jacob who got mad at Rachel when she cried for children now got mad at Laban when credit was given to God.
Commentators have argued over what happens next with the white stripes on the branches. All I can say is that the sovereign God allows the use of superstition and bad science and wrong theories about genetics so that Jacob becomes wealthy. Jacob, of course, had a different take on this: it was his scheming, his brains, his hard work, his plans that make him wealthy.
C How many of us aren't like Jacob? Where we think it is all because of me.
A misused phrase I hear too often in the Christian community is, "The Lord has really blessed me ..." I have learned to cover my ears at this point. Because what usually comes next is nothing but bragging about wealth and property and homes and business. It is nothing but a convenient providence where I get to brag about me.
It is not my hard work. It is not my superior intelligence. It is not my schemes. It is not about me. It is all of God.
I ask you to turn with me to Q & A 27 of the Catechism (PH p.871).
What do you understand
by the providence of God?
the almighty and ever present power of God
by which he upholds, as with his hand,
and all creatures,
and so rules them that
leaf and blade,
rain and drought,
fruitful and lean years,
food and drink,
health and sickness,
prosperity and poverty--
all things, in fact, come to us
not by chance
but from his fatherly hand.
This, congregation, is the kind of God we serve. A God Who is sovereign. A God Who is sovereign over all. A God Who, in Christ, is more than able to work salvation in the lives of His children. A God Who works all things for the good of those who love Him.
We have seen this God at work in Genesis. Through creation, fall, and redemption we see that our sovereign God has a plan that He follows and executes. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.
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