Solomon’s list of times and “seasons” must be viewed within the larger context of life an history. He is not necessarily saying, “Hey, it’s twelve o’clock, time to kill-so go out and bump someone off.” Rather, Solomon insists that human life takes place within a larger framework of events that repeat down through history: laughter, tears, killing, healing, destruction, building, death, birth.
The woman guilty of sexual misconduct was to lose her capacity for childbearing. This was a fearsome penalty indeed, for women in the ancient Near East established their sense of personal value and esteem on one activity only-bearing and raising children. Education, business, military status, community leadership-none of these were open to women; motherhood was everything.
Leah’s father, Laban, was a piece of work. It wasn’t being his oldest daughter. Her greater burden, however, was being the older sister of Rachel.
Everybody noticed Rachel. And why not? the Bible bluntly says she “was shapely and beautiful” (Gen 29:17); we can be sure family members, neighbors, and adolescent men raved nonstop about her. Meanwhile, poor Leah is described only as having “ordinary eyes.” The idea is that next to her head-turning sister, Leah was all but invisible.
The Gospel writer Luke precedes his account of Jesus’ birth with that of a lesser (though still prominent) figure in Jewish prophecy: the forerunner who would prepare the way for the Messiah and announce his arrival.
The circumstance of this forerunner’s birth were memorable. His mother, Elizabeth, was a relative of Jesus’ mother, Mary. His father, Zechariah, served as a priest in the temple. One day the angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah to announce that he and his wife would have a son. When Zechariah asked how that could be possible, since he and Elizabeth were well past the age when most people become parents, Gabriel told him he would be mute until his son was born because of his unbelief (Luke 1:5-20).
The Bible is a historical book as well as a spiritual one. As such, it contains many important historical leaders and describes their impact on the nation of Israel. These people are not often used as symbols in the Bibles, but their influence on the history of God’s people carries symbolic importance because of the particular interactions they had. The Jews look back on these leaders as people who operated under the sovereign will of God either to help them as an instrument of mercy or to test and punish them as an executor of his just wrath.
When Isaac became concerned about the neighborhood Canaanite girls stealing the heart of his youngest son, Jacob, he instructed Jacob to leave home: “Marry one of the daughters of Laban, your mother’s brother” (Gen 28:2). So Jacob packed up and headed for Paddan-aram (his mom’s hometown).
It was an emotional trip-leaving his parents, striking out on his own. On the way, Jacob stopped at Luz to get some shut-eye. During the night Yahweh himself appeared to Jacob in a dream, reiterating the promises he’d given years grandfather Abraham. It was a good sign.
An Jacob neared his destination, he came to a well. Some local shepherds there were in the process of telling Jacob all about Laban when a gorgeous shepherdess-Laban’s daughter Rachel-showed up with her flock. When happened next was like a scene from a romantic comedy. Jacob jumped up, watered Rachel’s thirsty sheep, kissed his shocked cousin, and began to weep loudly. When he gathered himself, he told Rachel who he was. In a flash she was running home to tell her father the news (see Gen 29:1-12).
Jacob stuck around and started helping Laban out. When Laban became uncomfortable with all that free labor, he said to Jacob, “Tell me what your wages should be” (Gen 29:15). Jacob didn’t even have to think. “I’ll work for you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel” (29:18).
Seven years seems like a long time to us, but the “shapely and beautiful” Rachel was a catch, and Jacob was utterly smitten. Consequently the years “seemed like only a few days to him” (Gen 29:17-20).
However, on their weeding night Uncle Laban pulled a fast one. He gave Jacob his older, less attractive daughter, Leah. It sounds hard to believe, but whether due to darkness, an excess of veils, or perhaps too much wine at the reception, Jacob was none the wiser. In the bright light of morning, Jacob was justifiably ticked. He confronted Laban, calming down only when Laban agreed to give him Rachel in one week’s time if Jacob would work for him seven more years. Jacob agreed.
Marriage is complicated; throw in an extra spouse, and things start getting really messy. Rachel was beloved, but childless. Leah, despite being unloved (see Gen 29:31), had several children. After watching her big sister produce four sons, Rachel became angry and desperate. She arranged for Jacob to have children by her servant girl, Bilhah, which resulted in the birth of two sons (see Gen 30:1-7). This started unhealthy competition between the sisters. Leah responded in kind, giving her handmaid, Zilpah, to Jacob. Soon, there were two more sons in this atypical family.
It wasn’t until after Leah gave birth to two additional sons and a daughter that “God remembered Rachel. He listened to her and opened her womb. She conceived and bore a son, and said, ‘God has taken away my shame'” (Gen 30:22-23). She named the boy Joseph, which means “may the LORD add another son to me” (30:24). The name was probably both a note of praise and a prayer.
Soon after the birth of Joseph, Jacob decided to take his family back to Canaan (see Gen 31:17-20). During the long journey, Jacob had a strange midnight wrestling match with God at the Jabbok River (see Gen 32:22-32). He also had a nerve-rattling reunion with his brother, Esau (see Gen 33:1-16). Rachel became pregnant again either during the family’s sojourn in Succoth or their short stay at Shechem (see 33:17-18). It was after stopping to worship at Bethel, and then heading for Ephrath (Bethlehem), that Rachel went into severe labor (see 35:16).
Life was always so complicated for her. Her rare beauty. Her conniving father. Having to share her husband with an envious big sister. Infertility. And now this: giving birth in the middle of a trip in the middle of nowhere.
It was another boy. God had answered her prayer (see Gen 30:24). Realizing she wasn’t going to see her newborn grow up, she named him Ben-oni, “son of my sorrow.” Probably because didn’t want to think of Rachel’s death every time he called his son, Jacob changed the boy’s name to Benjamin. Then he buried the great love of his life.
The very name Bethlehem immediately awakens thoughts of carol lyrics and the story of Christmas. Yet the tale of that little town reaches far back into history, when the Promised Land was just a promise. The village is first mentioned, almost as a sad footnote, in the itinerary of Jacob’s trip back from Haran with his growing family, only to have his beloved Rachel go into labor just outside Ephrath (Gen 35:16) and die while giving birth to the youngest of the patriarch’s sons, Benjamin. Her burial place is identified as Bethlehem (Gen 35:19). Continue reading BIBLE SIGNS AND SYMBOLS (BETHLEHEM)→