A Sure Bet

“Now Reuben went in the days of wheat harvest and found mandrakes in the field, and brought them to his mother Leah. Then Rachel said to Leah, ‘Please give me some of your son’s mandrakes.’ But she said to her, ‘Is it a small matter that you have taken away my husband? Would you take away my son’s mandrakes also?’ And Rachel said, ‘Therefore he will lie with you tonight for your son’s mandrakes.’When Jacob came out of the field in the evening, Leah went out to meet him and said, ‘You must come in to me, for I have surely hired you with my son’s mandrakes.’ And he lay with her that night. And God listened to Leah, and she conceived and bore Jacob a fifth son. Leah said, ‘God has given me my wages, because I have given my maid to my husband.’ So she called his name Issachar. Then Leah conceived again and bore Jacob a sixth son. And Leah said, ‘God has endowed me with a good endowment; now my husband will dwell with me, because I have borne him six sons.” So she called his name Zebulun. Afterward she bore a daughter, and called her name Dinah.”—Genesis 30:14-21 (NKJV)

Pastor and commentator David Guzik likens the ungodly competition between Rachel and Leah to a poker game. One sister bids and the other raises the bet. After the children were born, after the madness had ended, no one came out the winner–least of all the children. And today’s Scripture is case in point.

Years had passed. Leah, Jacob’s first wife, had stopped having children of her own. Perhaps a biological stop or maybe Jacob wasn’t intimate with her–we don’t know. But what we do read here is Reuben, Leah’s oldest son, finds mandrakes in a field and brings them to his mother.

Mandrakes are an herb used for treating a number of ailments, but most interesting is they are also considered an aphrodisiac. Did Reuben enter the field, see a pretty flower, and pick it for his mother, or did Leah send her son to gather them so she could give them to her husband Jacob? Again, we don’t know. But Rachel, Jacob’s second wife (and Leah’s sister), wanted them and offered what she felt was a fair “price.” Leah accepted. And little Reuben watched the exchange.

Children aren’t blind, and they aren’t dumb. Life in this bigamous and hostile household gave each child a front-row seat to some deplorable behavior. And now Reuben was smack dab in the middle of it. He watched as his mother took the flowers he had given her and traded them to his Aunt Rachel just so his mother could spend the night with Jacob.

For now, let’s lay aside the debauchery of this household because most of us don’t live in a sister-wife situation with each woman doubling down for another chance at a baby. But many of us have children or are around children. The saying “more is caught than taught” certainly applies to us all when it comes to lying, credibility, temperament, cheating, defaulting on loans, gossiping, and, well, you get the picture. Even if children aren’t directly involved, as Reuben was, they are still aware of what’s going on, and once they learn bad habits, all bets are off.

The lives of Rachel and Leah’s sons have an interesting course. Their parents didn’t model godly behavior in their formative years, but God the Father takes action in their adult lives and uses one of them to model to the others what it’s like to forgive, trust, and show grace. It’s the divine hand of God that raises what’s been played and lays out before us His glorious win.

DIG: What do Rachel and Leah risk in their desire to be with Jacob and give him children?

DISCOVER: Keep reading through Genesis to see how the twelve sons of Jacob live out what they’ve been taught.

DO: Do your best to model godly behavior–to your children, your grandchildren, or any child in your life. Show that following God is important to you, and they will follow suit.