Dec. 7, 2014 Genesis Sermon # 8
Genesis 29:31-30:24 “Am I in the Place of God?”(Part One)
Pastor Louis Prontnicki Maple Glen Bible Fellowship Church
Do you ever find yourself wishing that you could be God, and that you make everything happen the way you wanted it to? Let’s admit it, every time that we complain, we are implying that we could be doing a better job than God! So let’s consider the three main characters in this narrative, and see how each of them thought about being in the place of God.
Genesis 29:31 “When the LORD saw that Leah was not loved, he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren. 32 Leah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Reuben, for she said, “It is because the LORD has seen my misery. Surely my husband will love me now.” 33 She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said, “Because the LORD heard that I am not loved, he gave me this one too.” So she named him Simeon. 34 Again she conceived, and when she gave birth to a son she said, “Now at last my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.” So he was named Levi. 35 She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said, “This time I will praise the LORD.” So she named him Judah. Then she stopped having children.”
30:1 When Rachel saw that she was not bearing Jacob any children, she became jealous of her sister. So she said to Jacob, “Give me children, or I’ll die!” 2 Jacob became angry with her and said, “Am I in the place of God, who has kept you from having children?” 3 Then she said, “Here is Bilhah, my maidservant. Sleep with her so that she can bear children for me and that through her I too can build a family.” 4 So she gave him her servant Bilhah as a wife. Jacob slept with her, 5 and she became pregnant and bore him a son. 6 Then Rachel said, “God has vindicated me; he has listened to my plea and given me a son.” Because of this she named him Dan. 7 Rachel’s servant Bilhah conceived again and bore Jacob a second son. 8 Then Rachel said, “I have had a great struggle with my sister, and I have won.” So she named him Naphtali. 9 When Leah saw that she had stopped having children, she took her maidservant Zilpah and gave her to Jacob as a wife. 10 Leah’s servant Zilpah bore Jacob a son. 11 Then Leah said, “What good fortune!” So she named him Gad. 12 Leah’s servant Zilpah bore Jacob a second son. 13 Then Leah said, “How happy I am! The women will call me happy.” So she named him Asher. 14 During wheat harvest, Reuben went out into the fields and found some mandrake plants, which he brought to his mother Leah. Rachel said to Leah, “Please give me some of your son’s mandrakes.” 15 But she said to her, “Wasn’t it enough that you took away my husband? Will you take my son’s mandrakes too?” “Very well,” Rachel said, “he can sleep with you tonight in return for your son’s mandrakes.” 16 So when Jacob came in from the fields that evening, Leah went out to meet him. “You must sleep with me,” she said. “I have hired you with my son’s mandrakes.” So he slept with her that night. 17 God listened to Leah, and she became pregnant and bore Jacob a fifth son. 18 Then Leah said, “God has rewarded me for giving my maidservant to my husband.” So she named him Issachar. 19 Leah conceived again and bore Jacob a sixth son. 20 Then Leah said, “God has presented me with a precious gift. This time my husband will treat me with honor, because I have borne him six sons.” So she named him Zebulun. 21 Some time later she gave birth to a daughter and named her Dinah. 22 Then God remembered Rachel; he listened to her and opened her womb. 23 She became pregnant and gave birth to a son and said, “God has taken away my disgrace.” 24 She named him Joseph, and said, “May the LORD add to me another son.”
I. Jacob Knows He’s Not in God’s Place, So He Becomes Passive.
30:1 When Rachel saw that she was not bearing Jacob any children, she became jealous of her sister. So she said to Jacob, “Give me children, or I’ll die!” 2 Jacob became angry with her and said, “Am I in the place of God, who has kept you from having children?”2 is Jacob’s only line in this story, but what he says underscores all the drama of the story.
Jacob responds to Rachel’s impossible demand for sons with “Am I in the place of God?”
Lit: “Am I in God’s place, who has kept back from you the fruit of the womb?” The CEV translates it as “Don’t blame me; I’m not God.”
Jacob tells Rachel: “I can’t do what you are asking! I am not God. I am not all-powerful! I cannot create a new life in your womb, if God has kept you from having children. Rachel, how can I, a powerless man, give you what only the Almighty God can give you?!”
Jacob is powerless and passive here. He is dominated by the actions of his two wives. They name all the sons (except Benjamin). They tell him who he is to sleep with. Jacob is a powerless man; he is far from being in the place of God.
Indeed, though Jacob is kept very busy inseminating these four women (two wives and two surrogate mothers), he cannot control whether Rachel, his beloved wife, is able to conceive.
He is powerless here. No amount of his clever deceit or adroit manipulation will enable his beloved Rachel to become pregnant.
And so Jacob learns that he is powerless to give his wife the one thing she is desperately crying out for! He knows deep in his heart that he is not in the place of God.
Husbands, have you been there? Have you felt your total inability to help your wife in the one thing she feels she needs? She’s wounded, in pain; she’s struggling with her past and feeling insecure… and you can’t fix her.
But there’s one thing Jacob did have the power to do, and should have done for Rachel. What was it? (Most husbands want to fix the situation, right? We want to put on our tool belt and figure out how to fix what is broken, including the needs of our wife. But Jacob couldn’t fix Rachel.) So what should he have done?
He should have prayed to the Lord for Rachel to be able to conceive. That’s what his father Isaac did for Rebekah, when she was infertile, and she became pregnant. (Gen. 25: 21)
Husband: Do you pray for your wife? Do you pray fervently for her, especially for those areas that are so troublesome and burdensome for her? That’s part of living with your wife with understanding (I Peter 3:7). Don’t be a passive partner towards your wife.
And for those women without husbands, or for those with husbands who are failing you, hang on…there’s hope for you a little later in this message.
By the way: husbands, if you want to see how Jacob should have treated Rachel, read 1 Samuel 1:5-8, and see how Elkanah was tender towards his wife Hannah, when she was barren and miserable.
II. Leah Knows She’s Not in God’s Place, So She Becomes Active.
Leah knew she wasn’t in control. She knew she was not in God’s place. Think about it: If Leah had been in the place of God, she would have made herself lovely and attractive, right? But unlike Jacob, who reacted by becoming passive, Leah responded with an active faith in God.
Knowing that she was unwanted by her father, unloved by her husband, and very vulnerable and weak, Leah cried out to God for mercy… and the Lord answered her. Whereas Jacob failed to pray for his wife Rachel, his other wife, Leah, saw prayer as her only active option.
We read in 29:31 “When the LORD saw that Leah was not loved, he opened her womb…
32 Leah became pregnant and gave birth to a son… she said, “It is because the LORD has seen my misery…” 33 She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said, “Because the LORD heard that I am not loved, he gave me this one too.”
30:17 “God listened to Leah, and she became pregnant and bore Jacob a fifth son.
So Leah did what Jacob failed to do: knowing that she was not in God’s place, she cried out to Him in prayer. She trusted that God was merciful. She believed that God would listen to her prayers. She had faith that God would see her misery and hear that her husband didn’t love her. She clung to the truth that God gives good gifts to those who wait upon Him.
Yes, it’s true that Leah’s motives and methods were not always righteous and pure.
Her motives, initially, in asking the Lord for sons was so that she could win Jacob’s heart… though, by the fourth son, Judah, there was at least a temporary shift in her focus to the Lord!
And her methods were sometimes worldly. In 30:9 Leah imitates her sister’s worldly methods by resorting to using her maid as a surrogate mother, even though she already had four sons by asking the Lord for His help.
Then in 30:14-16 we see Rachel trading her son’s mandrakes for the right to sleep with Jacob that night. Evidently Jacob had been boycotting Leah’s bed for some time (the Hebrew words indicate this), so Leah crassly uses these mandrakes as a way to get him back in her bed. Hardly the best foreplay! [Imagine Jacob as he comes in from a long day in the fields, and Leah says to him: “Guess who you’re sleeping with tonight? Moi!” Jacob replies: “Forget about it; I’m sleeping with Rachel, like I always do.” Rachel says, “Not tonight, my hubby: I have hired you with some mandrakes I sold to your sister!” What a way to put your husband in the mood!]
Yet despite these worldly ways on Leah’s part, it is clear that she knew that she was not in the place of God. Leah therefore became active in prayer; she humbled herself and relied on God, believing that He could be trusted to listen to her, to see her misery, and to act on her behalf.
And here’s the hope for those women without husbands or with passive husbands:
The Lord was the husband to Leah that Jacob should have been to her. Praise the Lord! When others fail us, God steps in and cares for us.
God cares specially for women without husbands. See Isa. 54:1, 4-5 “Sing, O barren woman, you who never bore a child; burst into song, shout for joy, you who were never in labor; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband,” says the LORD….4 “Do not be afraid; you will not suffer shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated. You will forget the shame of your youth and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood. 5 For your Maker is your husband– the LORD Almighty is his name– the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth.”
Application: Do you know you’re not in God’s Place? If so, then become active in your prayers, your trust, your hope…in the Living God!
III. Rachel Knows She’s Not in God’s Place, So She Becomes Controlling.
While Rachel knows that she’s not God, she acts as if she could be in the place of God!
You know the saying about the difference between cats and dogs? A dog says to his owner “You pet me, you feed me, you shelter me, you love me; therefore you must be God.” A cat says to her owner “You pet me, you feed me, you shelter me, you love me; therefore I must be God.”
Rachel sees herself as a “cat” who thinks she is god and she needs to be in control! She’s struggling with her infertility while her rival sister is having one baby after another. Rachel is disgruntled, frustrated, irritated, angry, and exasperated with everyone else in the narrative!
First, Rachel blames her husband.
“So she said to Jacob, “Give me children (sons), or I’ll die!”
Note two things about her demand to Jacob:
First, she is bringing her complaint to the wrong person. She should have been pouring out her heart primarily to God, not to Jacob, on this matter.
Second, her ultimatum, “Or I’ll die,” is ironic in that Rachel did indeed die, when she was giving birth to her second son, Benjamin. (Rachel’s tomb, even today, between Jerusalem and Hebron, is a place where women with fertility problems come to pray.)
Wife: don’t look to your husband to supply what only God can do for you.
Second, Rachel battles with her sister.
Rachel had always been successful, but now she experiences failure and loss for the first time! She wasn’t in control anymore. She’s in competition with Leah for Jacob’ heart. She tells her husband to sleep with her maidservant, to try and even the score, but then Leah does the same thing with her maidservant! She purchases mandrakes from Leah’s son, hoping that they would enhance her lovemaking and fertility… but Leah was the one who became pregnant!
Application: Are you battling someone, because you are jealous of them? Are you in competition for someone’s recognition or affirmation? You need to own up to it, and repent!
Third, Rachel bluffs her relationship with God
In v. 6 Rachel implies that she cried out to God and God heard her prayers: “God has vindicated me; he has listened to my plea and given me a son.” In v. 8 “Rachel said, “I have had a great struggle with my sister, and I have won.” She implies that God was on her side, against Leah, because He has helped even the score against her.
But does Rachel really know God at this point? Had she really come to the end of herself and cast herself upon the Lord? I don’t think so. I think she was bluffing. She uses religious language, but is it really from her heart? It’s only at the end of this story where the grace of God appears to break through to Rachel: 30:22-23 Then God remembered Rachel; he listened to her and opened her womb. She became pregnant and gave birth to a son and said, “God has taken away my disgrace.”
Application: Are you bluffing in your relationship with the Lord? Has He truly done a heart transplant in you? Have you surrendered your will and your heart to Him?
We’ve been asking “Am I in the place of God?” But now let’s turn that upside-down:
IV. God Comes in the place of Man, So That We can be in the place of God.
That is, He took our place so that we could be with Him in His place. God comes to earth in the place of Man (both Incarnation and Atoning Substitute), so that we can be in the place where God dwells. (Eternal Glory). God takes our place so that we can be with Him in His place! Jesus comes to us in order to suffer and die in our place, as our substitute, our penalty-bearer. Through His sacrifice for us, we are able to enter into the place where God lives in glory!
With Jacob, we ask: “Am I in the place of God?” And the answer is “No!”
In Jesus, ask “Am I in the place of God?” and He tells “Yes!”
But Jacob knew that, didn’t he? Recall what happened at Bethel:
Gen. 28:16-17 When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” 17 He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.”
As we come to the Lord’s Supper, we are reminded of God taking our place on the cross, so that we could be welcomed to His dwelling place. Hymn # 469 reminds us of that wonderful truth: “How sweet and awesome is the place…”