My two sisters and I have eight children between us, six of whom were born within a 5-year period. It was non-stop babies, and very handy for passing on the clothes and equipment – it was more or less one every 11 months! Those were joyful years, and how hard it would have been if one of us had not been able to have children.
Rachel found it incredibly difficult that her sister Leah produced 4 healthy baby boys whilst she herself had none. Suddenly, that beautiful vision Jacob had worked 14 solid years to possess, turned into a green-eyed jealous monster (Genesis 30:1-13). Not having children was dire for women at that time, but I’m guessing there was even more to it than that.
In all those years of courting, waiting for the day he could take his bride home, would Jacob not have told her the story of why he had run away from home; that he was the chosen son to carry forward the family covenant blessing? Would he not have shared with her about the promise to be fruitful and have many descendants, and to take possession of that land? She, Rachel, the beloved of Jacob should surely be the one to bear the child who would carry forth this promise; she should be the one included into this wonderful blessing!
In grandmother Sarah’s day, God had made it abundantly clear that she would be the one to bear the offspring of promise through whom one day all peoples of the earth should be blessed. But no such assurances had been made to Rachel. Certainly she had the love of her husband, but that was all she had, and it wasn’t enough for her.
So she tried the ploy that Sarah had attempted, and put her maid forward to bear her a child by proxy. Presumably Bilhah was of an easier disposition than Hagar had been, as she seemed relatively satisfied with this arrangement. But then the race was on! Babies were the bargaining tool in the battle for Jacob’s affection and a place of honour in the family line. Of all the dysfunctional family arrangements, this must have hit the pits.
Life can be a pig for some people. In fact, there are probably very few of us who do not have to face disappointment of a fairly large order in at least one area of life. It doesn’t mean that God doesn’t love us. It doesn’t mean that a miracle isn’t round the corner. And it doesn’t mean that it necessarily is either. Sometimes we just have to get on with it, and cope with our disappointment. Jesus did not promise an easy life – check out John 16 – but he did promise to be with us, and he does give us the grace to cope.