The Dysfunctional Birth of a Nation

“Then Rachel said, ‘With great wrestlings I have wrestled with my sister, and indeed I have prevailed . . .’”—Genesis 30:8 (NKJV)

The American pastor, author, theologian, and radio pioneer Donald Barnhouse wrote, “Can a woman get so low that she will hit her sister over the head with a baby? Rachel did.”

As strange as that sounds, it’s actually what took place between these two sisters and wives of Jacob. Yes, Jacob—the son of Isaac who would one day wrestle with God and be renamed “Israel” by God Himself. Jacob had two wives, two concubines, and numerous offspring, twelve of which became the twelve tribes of Israel. But things got off to a rocky start.

The trouble began when a very fertile Leah, Jacob’s first wife, conceived and gave Jacob four sons: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah. And although Rachel remained barren, she gave birth to a root of envy! Heartbroken, she cried out to Jacob, “Give me children, or else I die!” (Genesis 30:1 NKJV). Angrily, Jacob replied, “Am I in the place of God, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?” (v. 2) In other words, it’s not my fault.

Desperate, Rachel urged Jacob to lie with her maid Bilhah (v. 3). Jacob did, and Bilhah conceived, giving Rachel her first son! Before long, Bilhah had another son. And this is when Rachel says, “I have wrestled with my sister, and indeed I have prevailed (v. 8).

Rachel was off to a good start, but Leah didn’t want to give up the lead. So, she gave her handmaiden, Zilpah, to Jacob. And from that union, Jacob was given another son. And then yet another son from Zilpah! Victoriously, Leah said, “I am happy, for the daughters will call me blessed” (v. 13).

In all reality, I’d say both sisters were hitting one another over the head with their babies. And as a result, Jacob’s family grew bigger, but so did the complications. As the brothers grew, their envy and desire to control the outcome of their lives derailed the path God intended. At the very root of all this envy was pride and distrust. Sadly, the children were born into a dysfunctional belief system, and it’s no wonder most of them made poor decisions as they grew.

But as we see later in Genesis, what was meant for evil God used for good. Ultimately, God is in control, and even our divergence from His path can be supernaturally navigated to ensure His way is certain. This doesn’t mean it’s okay to sin because God will step in and take control. On the contrary, I believe God is using this story to encourage us to think twice and reflect on how our behavior will ultimately influence those in our care.

DIG: Read Chapter 29 of Genesis to learn how Leah and Rachel both came to be Jacob’s wives.

DISCOVER: Jacob, Leah, and Rachel had options, but their choices had dire consequences. What options are you facing now? Are you considering the consequences?

DO: Take a lesson from the page of this family and trust God, don’t let a root of bitterness grow, and resist allowing your pride to get in the way of God’s righteous path for you.