Community Group Study “Genesis: Jacob’s Family”
Read Genesis 30:1-24
The story of Jacob and his family has been a long example of how misplaced identity and value becomes a barrier in one’s relationship with God and with others. Jacob is a man who has been at conflict with everyone in his life. He finds himself at odds with his brother, his father, Laban, his wives and throughout his story, God. Genesis 30:1-24 can seem like an odd or irrelevant passage for modern life, but it is yet another window into people striving to be loved and desperate to find worth from people and from God. When we last read in the Jacob story we saw that Jacob was tricked into marrying Laban’s oldest daughter, Leah, when he really wanted to marry the youngest, Rachel. Motivated by Rachel’s beauty, Jacob dedicated 7 years of his life to work for Laban. After being deceived, Jacob devoted another 7 years to get what he originally wanted. Some of us can marvel at “how much he loved her”, but when you dig into the story you see a man who is obsessed with outward beauty and not with the inner character of the person he married.
Thought the end of Genesis 29 we learn how Leah struggled with being unloved by her husband and finding value in having children. We see her wrestle as she names her kids based on how her relationship with her husband was deficient. She finally came to a place of recognizing her need for Yahweh. God would ultimately bless her and use her family line to lead to Jesus through Leah’s son Judah whose name meant “this time I will praise Yahweh”. God saw her weakness and recognized her dependance on him.
The problem though is what we see one verse later. Leah falls back into the competitive jealousy of her sibling rivalry. This shows us how even sin we think we have defeated can rear its ugly head. The relationship between Leah and Rachel mirrors the earlier relationship we saw between Jacob and Esau… they were rivals. Rachel was jealous of Leah (Genesis 30:1) and started an “arms race” for kids by using her servant as a concubine to have children on her behalf with Jacob. Rachel seemed to have some sort of level of control over who Jacob was intimate with (30:15); we’re not told how she went about it but she definitely called a lot of the shots in this arrangement. Leah, instead of remaining confident in God, responds with using her servant to gain more kids through Jacob as well.
Rachel comes to a place of desperation turning to superstitious means and makes a deal with Leah. Leah’s son found some “mandrake” root, which in the Hebrew is literally the combination of the words “love” and “fruit”. Mandrakes were known as an aphrodisiac in the ancient world for their strong smell and because the root was shaped like a human torso. Rachel is grasping for meaning and is looking to any means possible to have a child. Leah in return is desperate to be loved by Jacob. In their own minds, they each have half a life and the other person has the other half they desire. One has children but no love and the other has “love” but no children. They make a deal for Leah to “lie with” Jacob in exchange for this mandrake root. Rachel’s plan backfires, she does not get a child through the mandrake root and Leah becomes pregnant with another son (Genesis 30:17). Ultimately Leah would later have a 6th son… six children in seven years.
The narrative ends with Rachel finally having a son, but it was around 3 years after the mandrake incident. She was blessed by God, not through human means or her desperate attempts. Instead, “God remembered her and opened her womb.”
We may wonder where God is in the midst of all of this conflict and striving? What we see is that God uses this to build out the family of Jacob who will become the nation of Israel; who ironically also strive with each other and with God. Likewise, God did not abandon Leah and Rachel, he was there the entire time desiring to bless and remember each of the wives. Both the wife who desperately needed to be loved and the other who desired to have her reproach taken away and to bear a son. Ultimately God gives both what they desired, just not on their timing and not by the means they pursued it with.
As you follow Jesus, know that there is safety, security and value in Christ and Christ alone. Our work and efforts, as they flow from that reality and that knowledge, will bring glory and honor to God. Fight the desperate urge to find your value in things that do not last in this world. We should also be encouraged by yet another example of how God uses imperfect people in his plans.
At your community group:
Take 15-20 minutes to share about how God has been at work in your life, prayer concerns and pray for one another.
How did God speak to you through the scripture and the sermon this week?
We learn how Rachel and Leah wrestle over their value in what the other person had. Leah wanted the love Rachel had from Jacob and Rachel wanted to have kids like Leah, specifically sons. Why would someone in the ancient world find their identity in their ability to have children or in their spouse’s approval of them? How does this look in the modern world today?
Why is important that Rachel’s superstitious attempt with the mandrake roots failed?
This study guide discussed how we can often fall into the trap of having “half a life”, meaning that we have certain blessings from God but there are things that we feel like we’re missing out on. Often we look to others who have these things. Why is this a spiritually dangerous place to be?
Instead of competing with people, what should followers of Jesus seek to do instead? Look to places like Matthew 5:43-48, 7:12, Romans 13:8-10 and Philippians 2:3-4.