Yes, this is in the Bible. A man fell in love with a woman. And then he married her…sister. A man still in love with the woman married her…a week after he married the sister.
Yes, this is in the Bible. A wife was unloved. A wife was unloved and so she had children. She had children because she was desperate for the love of her husband.
Yes, this is in the Bible. Another wife was loved. Another wife was loved and so she too had children. She had children because she was desperate to have children.
Yes, this is in the Bible. A wife was unhappy. A wife was unhappy and so she had more children. She had more children because she was desperate to be happy
Yes, this is in the Bible. Another wife was unhappy. Another wife was unhappy and so she sold her husband. She sold her husband for some fruit because she too was desperate to be happy.
Yes, this is in the Bible. And the big question is, why is any of this in the Bible?
Four Parts for a Big Question
There are four parts to Genesis 29:31-30:24. The first part begins with Genesis 29:31. “When the Lord saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren.” The second part begins with Genesis 30:1. “When Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, she envied her sister.” The third part begins with Genesis 30:9. “When Leah saw that she had ceased bearing children…” Notice that so far each of the three parts begin the same way. “When the Lord saw; When Rachel saw; When Leah saw.” But the fourth part is different. It begins with Genesis 30:22. “Then God remembered Rachel, and God listened to her and opened her womb.”
And there is a certain symmetry between the first part, Genesis 29:31, and the fourth part, Genesis 30:22. Listen closely to those two parts one more time. “When the Lord saw that Leah was hated.” I like how many English translations word this verse. “When the Lord saw that Leah was unloved, he opened her womb.” Let’s highlight those words, “he opened her womb.” God opened Leah’s womb, implying what? Before God opened her womb, Leah was barren. And I want to make this point. God saw that Leah was unloved and God opened her womb. Why did God open Leah’s womb? The text does not say, “God saw that Leah was unloved and so he opened her womb.” The text simply says, “When God saw that Leah was unloved, he opened her womb.” And again, implying that before God opened her womb, Leah was barren. And what does the remainder of the verse read? “But Rachel was barren.” So, prior to Genesis 29:31, both sisters, both sisters who were wives, both sisters who were both wives to the same man, were barren. And when God saw that Leah was unloved, he opened her womb. And why? Why did he open her womb?
And now the fourth part. Notice the symmetry to the first part. “Then God remembered Rachel, and God listened to her and opened her womb.” Where is the symmetry to the first part? God opened her womb. There is the symmetry! The subject of the first part is Leah. The subject of the fourth part is Rachel. And both parts are about when each sister was barren. When God saw that Leah was unloved, he opened her womb. When God remembered Rachel and listened to Rachel, he opened her womb. Mark the word remembered. Rachel is just the third person in Genesis of whom it is said, “God remembered.” God remembered Noah (Genesis 8:1). God remembered Abraham (Genesis 19:29). God remembered Rachel and opened her womb (Genesis 30:22). And like Leah, why did God open Rachel’s womb?
Each of the four parts involve Leah and Rachel. And so, why is any of this in the Bible? It has something to do with Leah and Rachel. And, why did God open their wombs? It has something to do with why any of this is in the Bible.
Perhaps There Are Seven Lessons About Marriage
Both Leah and Rachel are married to the same man: Jacob. So, perhaps in these verses there is something to be learned about marriage. Perhaps in these verses there is a lesson or seven about marriage. It begins with lesson number one regarding marriage: Don’t do it. This leads to lesson number two regarding marriage. Do not be married to two women or more simultaneously. And like lesson number two is lesson number three regarding marriage: Be at all times a one-man kind of woman and a one-woman kind of man (cf. 1 Timothy 3:2). Then there is lesson number four: Do lessons number one through three and marriage will still have its difficulties. Then comes lesson number five. Do lessons number one through four and love your wife and love your husband. Lesson number six then follows: Keep lesson number five before you and do not have children to earn or to seek the affection of your spouse. Nor should you seek to have children for the mere sake of having a family or your own self-worth. And finally lesson number seven: Neither Jacob’s marriage to Leah or Jacob’s marriage to Rachel is the ideal biblical marriage.
The ideal biblical marriage has as its foundation Genesis 2:24. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife.” This is the foundation, but then there is the structure. And the structure, the display, is found in Ephesians 5:25-33. Marriage is a profound and great mystery because a husband loving his wife and a wife enjoying, respecting, loving her husband is a display of the good news of Jesus Christ. It is a display of the gospel which causes great joy. It is a display of the cross and Christ loving his bride, the church and giving himself up for her.
But Perhaps There is But One Lesson
But perhaps there is but one lesson. Perhaps the lesson is just this: this is one hot mess. It is messy! These marriages are a mess! Consider Leah. When God saw that she was unloved, he opened her womb. She then conceived and gave birth to four sons, but not all at the same time. Listen to what she said at the birth of her first son. “For now my husband will love me.” Listen then to what she said a year later at the birth of her second son. “God has given me this son also,” meaning, apparently the birth of the first son did not result in the affection of the husband. Surely the second son will arouse some feeling from the husband for the wife. Listen to Leah when the third son was born. “Now this time my husband will be attached to me.” Leah was no longer hoping for the love, the affection of her husband. Now she was simply hoping that Jacob would want to be in the same room as his wife. Perhaps now he will spend some time with me (cf. Genesis 29:32-34).
And really listen to what Leah says at the birth of the fourth son. “This time I will praise the Lord.” What is more painful than when a spouse is unloved? After four sons, is Leah satisfied? I was a bit critical of Leah, maybe lacking some compassion. I thought, why did it take the birth of four sons for you to finally say, “This time I will praise the Lord”? Do you know why I lacked understanding? It is because I do not know what it is like to be unloved. Leah does. And so, maybe it is difficult after one year, two years, three years, four years to be able to get to the point of being able to just say, “I will praise the Lord.” But I know this much: get there.
Then there is Rachel. She is watching her sister; her husband’s other wife and she is envious. She wants children and she does not want her sister to have children. She demands children from her husband or else she will die! Notice what Jacob says. “Am I in the place of God, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?” What is Jacob saying to Rachel? But also pay attention to how Jacob introduces his question to Rachel. “Am I in the place of God?” We will come back to this later. (cf. Genesis 30:1-2).
But Rachel has a plan. Her plan has nothing to do with God. Her plan has to do with her servant (reminiscent of Sarah). She gives her servant to Jacob her husband so that Rachel can build a family for herself through this servant (again reminiscent of Sarah). And Jacob says nothing, voices no opposition (reminiscent of Abraham). The servant bears a son of whom Rachel declares that God has vindicated her. Is she correct? So, Rachel gives her servant to Jacob a second time and there is born a second son. In some way, Rachel saw her struggle with Leah for children as a struggle with which God was involved, giving Rachel victory. Is she correct? (cf. Genesis 30:3-8).
Then Leah sees Rachel. Leah has for some reason stopped being able to bear children. She sees Rachel who is barren building a family for herself through another woman. So, Leah does the very same thing! She imitates her sister and succeeds with the birth of two boys! And Leah does not declare victory, but happiness. Happy days are here again (cf. Genesis 30:9-13)!
Both sisters are now barren together. Apparently so are the servants who were used as surrogates. There are no more children until sometime later, when the two sisters are out in the field. Rachel sees Leah’s son with some mandrakes (playfully called love apples). Mandrakes were assumed to help with infertility. Keep in mind that up to this point, Rachel has not personally bore any children. And Leah has not spent an evening with Jacob for quite some time. So, Rachel sells a night with Jacob to Leah for the mandrakes. The result is that Leah, not Rachel gets pregnant. And Leah gets pregnant again. And then Leah gets pregnant again (cf. Genesis 30:14-21).
After all these years, maybe nine or ten, Jacob has six sons and one daughter with Leah, two sons with one servant and two sons with another. This is ten sons and one daughter, none of whom are with the wife he loves more: Rachel.
God Saw and God Remembered and God Heard Her
After all this time, God remembers Rachel. God listens to Rachel, he heard her. And God opened her womb. She gave birth to a son named Joseph.
And so, we come back to our big question. Why is any of this in the Bible? And, why did God open her womb, Leah and Rachel?
Remember Jacob’s question to Rachel? “Am I in the place of God?” When Rachel finally has a child of her own she names him Joseph. At the end of Genesis, Joseph will ask his brothers, the brothers born in this chapter, “Am I in the place of God?” (50:19). He then will say to these brothers, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (50:20).
And remember Leah’s fourth son, when she finally said that this time she will praise the Lord. His name was Judah. One of the descendants of Judah is King David. And one of the descendants of David is the King of kings, Jesus the Christ.
What then is the point? Why is any of this in the Bible? Why did God open their wombs? This all was a mess. But God saw her. He saw her in this mess. And God remembered her. He remembered her in this mess. And God heard her. He heard her in this mess.
Life can be messy, married or not, children or not. But God sees, God remembers, and God hears. Why? It is all to bring about good from your mess.