The story of the children of Jacob being born is a story of God’s mercy. We would have expected that God’s plan to bless Jacob with children to be grand and omnipotent. It turns out it was merciful through the imperfections of humanity. God works things out for good.
26 Laban replied, “It is not our custom here to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older one. 27 Finish this daughter’s bridal week; then we will give you the younger one also, in return for another seven years of work.”
28 And Jacob did so. He finished the week with Leah, and then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel to be his wife. 29 Laban gave his servant Bilhah to his daughter Rachel as her attendant. 30 Jacob made love to Rachel also, and his love for Rachel was greater than his love for Leah. And he worked for Laban another seven years.
31 When the Lord saw that Leah was not loved, he enabled her to conceive, but Rachel remained childless. 32 Leah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Reuben, for she said, “It is because the Lord has seen my misery. Surely my husband will love me now.”
Here we go again. God promised to bless Jacob and he provided a wife for him in Rachel. The trouble is that Laban tricked him into marrying Leah and suddenly Jacob had two sister wives (who were actually sisters). From here, there is nowhere good this can go. The jealousy and competition flourished.
First of all, Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah – no wonder, given that he didn’t want Leah in the first place. And so God had mercy. Take note. When humans put each other in awkward and impossible circumstances, God has mercy. From time to time we hear people ask, ‘where was God when…?’ The answer is, ‘He was preparing to show mercy.’
He showed Leah mercy through the birth of Reuben. That’s right. The first of the sons of Jacob after whom the tribes of Israel were named was born through the trick-wife Laban planted in Jacob’s tent on his wedding night. In other words, God was living Romans 8:28 long before Romans was written by Paul. God works things out for good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose.
That’s Jacob. Called according to God’s purpose. A lover of God. The Jacob through whom the promise made to Abraham would be fulfilled. The father of the nation of Israel.
Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, and Dinah (a girl!) were all born of Leah. And Bilhah, the servant of Rachel, bore Dan and Naphtali after Rachel was childless and encouraged Jacob to sleep with her servant. Likewise, Leah’s servant Zilpah bore Gad, and Asher. Rachel finally bore Joseph, as God had mercy on her, and eventually (Genesis 35), Benjamin. And so we see that the twelve tribes were born through four women through whom God showed mercy.
If this happened today, we would say that it could not be of God. It would be an abomination to the conservative Christians of today. Yet God saw his way through the imperfections of human decisions to accomplish divine objectives in a way that demonstrated his mercy and love.
And that, we should expect God to continue to do today…