Jacob’s wives: when one wife is best.
Jacob had two wives – but he had twelve sons born of four women. Two of the women were the servant girls of his wives. These girls were “given” to him to provide children for the actual wives. Did they realize that one wife is best?
The story line tells us that two sisters were given to Jacob as wives one week apart. Jacob worked seven years for Laban to get Rachel, but he got Leah instead. Leah was not as pretty as Rachel, but since she was the oldest, she was given first. Jacob confronted Laban and agreed to work one more week for Laban to obtain Rachel.
When God saw that Leah was not loved, He opened her womb and closed Rachel’s. Leah bore Jacob four sons, and Rachel was jealous. Rachel gave her servant girl, Bilhah, to Jacob so she could “have children with her.” Obviously, these servant girls were just property. Sound familiar? What happened to one wife is best?
Bilhah bore two sons to Jacob while Leah watched, hoping for another pregnancy to win favor with her husband. When she could not conceive, she gave her servant Zilpah to Jacob to “have children with her.”
Zilpah bore two sons to Jacob, but that did not satisfy Leah. One day Leah’s oldest son Reuben came in with mandrakes for his mother. Rachel saw the mandrakes and asked her sister for some of the mandrakes.
A mandrake is a rare Mediterranean plant. It is desired in many cultures because it is believed to promote fertility. One wonders if Leah asked her son to find mandrakes so she could conceive again. Who knows?
Leah replied, “Is it not enough for you to steal my husband that now you also want my son’s mandrakes?”
Rachel told Leah that Jacob would have sex with Leah that night in exchange for some of the mandrakes. When Jacob came in from the field that evening, Leah met him and said, “You must come in to me tonight because I have hired you with my son’s mandrakes.” (What a way to live!)
Leah conceived and bore a fifth son, and still later a sixth. That is when God opened Rachel’s womb and she bore a son, Joseph. Years later, Rachel died while giving birth to Jacob’s twelfth son, Benjamin.
Parallels and how one wife is best
This story touches my heart because there is so much competition, jealousy, and heartache because of Jacob’s wives and their servant girls. There is conniving between the two of them, and it never stops. What a way to have a marriage! How much better to follow the principle of one wife is best. Every one of the sons born to Jacob is equal in rank even though Jacob loved Rachel and Joseph most.
Had these women become true friends, their sons would probably had been better friends. Had these women worked for the good of the family, the deceit and rift would not have been as deep or as wide. At the same time, I cannot imagine sharing my husband with another woman, even if it was considered normal and the cultural thing to do. Giving my slave to my husband so I could bear children through her is so foreign to me and goes against the sanctity of the sexual relationship between one-man-one-woman for life. If we’re honest, we know that one wife is best.
The real problem
With Rachel and Leah, there was constant competition. Leah bore Jacob sons. Rachel was loved most. Leah was weak-eyed. Rachel was beautiful. They lived with their differences and their feelings of inadequacies. What one had, the other wanted. What one lacked caused jealousy toward the other. Their comparison with each other was constant, and it trickled right down through their sons. Small wonder then that when Joseph brought a bad report to his father about Zilpah and Bilah’s sons, they were angry. When Jacob gave a special coat to one son of his old age, the anger got hotter. Then, this “spoiled” brother shared his dreams with his brothers, it was more than they wanted to hear. When the perfect opportunity came their way, they got rid of Joseph. Perhaps they thought their problems were over once they got rid of the favorite son.
The problem was that Joseph wasn’t the problem. They were, and the problems started with their mothers who could not get along. No woman wants to share her husband with another woman, and no woman should. We can “legitimize” it by buying mandrakes to get what we want, but the fact remains that women are not designed to share a spouse. How different Jacob’s life would have been had he only had sons from one woman.
Redemption in every story
You know what I love most about this story? The fact that God brings redemption in the midst of pain, tragedy, horror, and loss. He does not throw our broken pieces away. He redeems and restores, and brings beauty out of ashes.
Even though one wife is best, God used the sons of Jacob from more than one wife and servant girls to complete His plan. He uses human, sinful, broken people.
Rachel’s son, Joseph, saved the Children of Israel from starvation and provided a place for them in Egypt.
Leah’s son, Judah, is the one through whose line Jesus came, and God used the son born out of prostitution to Judah.
Leah’s son, Levi, produced generations leading to Moses, who led the Children of Israel to the Promised Land.
God takes the mess we make and uses it to bring redemption, not because of who we are, but because of Who He is.