Preparing for Advent

25 11 2011

Advent has become my favorite season of the church calendar. It begins four Sundays before Christmas, so November 27, 2011. I have found that participating in this season’s activities helps keep me focused on the meaning of Christmas amidst all of the commercialism and stress of the public holiday season. I am also particularly fond of the symbolism of the wreath, candles, and colors. The wreath symbolizes eternal life, as it is a circle of evergreen. The nuts and seedpods used to decorate it represent resurrection, and the fruits used are symbolic of the fruitfulness of Christian life.

The candles represent the coming of light into the world. The first week, one candle is lit, and each week after one additional is lit until all the candles are lit. The first 3 candles lit are purple, the color used during Lent and Advent to represent penitence. The fourth candle is pink, a liturgical color only used on the 4th Sunday of Advent and on Laetare Sunday during Lent. On Christmas day, the greens are replaced with fresh greens and the four candles are replaced with white candles that are burned throughout the Christmas season (or until Epiphany on January 6). The white candles symbolize Christ.

It is important to remember that the color purple, used during the season, is the color of penitence. This season is about anticipating the advent (both Christmas and the 2nd Coming) of Christ, but it is also about repentance. It is a time to reflect on our sinful condition as we await the only one who can redeem us. Fasting is appropriate but not required during this season (it should be noted that one cannot fast on Sundays or on holy days).

So as I prepare myself for this season, I generally read The Prayer of Manasseh. It’s an apocryphal book, but it is entirely appropriate. At least I think so.

Thou who hast made heaven and earth with all their order; who hast shackled the sea by thy word of command, who hast confined the deep and sealed it with thy terrible and glorious name; at whom all things shudder, and tremble before thy power, for thy glorious splendor cannot be borne, and the wrath of thy threat to sinners is irresistible; yet immeasurable and unsearchable is thy promised mercy, for thou art the Lord Most High, of great compassion, long-suffering, and very merciful, and repentest over the evils of men. Thou, O Lord, according to thy great goodness hast promised repentance and forgiveness to those who have sinned against thee; and in the multitude of thy mercies thou hast appointed repentance for sinners, that they may be saved. Therefore thou, O Lord, God of the righteous, hast not appointed repentance for the righteous, for Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, who did not sin against thee, but thou hast appointed repentance for me, who am a sinner. For the sins I have committed are more in number than the sand of the sea; my transgressions are multiplied, O Lord, they are multiplied! I am unworthy to look up and see the height of heaven because of the multitude of my iniquities. I am weighted down with many an iron fetter, so that I am rejected because of my sins, and I have no relief; for I have provoked thy wrath and have done what is evil in thy sight, setting up abominations and multiplying offenses. And now I bend the knee of my heart, beseeching thee for thy kindness. I have sinned, O Lord, I have sinned, and I know my transgressions. I earnestly beseech thee, forgive me, O Lord, forgive me! Do not destroy me with my transgressions! Do not be angry with me for ever or lay up evil for me; do not condemn me to the depths of the earth. For thou, O Lord, art the God of those who repent, and in me thou wilt manifest thy goodness; for, unworthy as I am, thou wilt save me in thy great mercy, and I will praise thee continually all the days of my life. For all the host of heaven sings thy praise, and thine is the glory for ever. Amen.

How do you prepare yourself for advent? Are there particular scriptures you read this time of year?





Gratitude

14 11 2011

A bunch of my friends on facebook are daily making their statuses something they are grateful for. For whatever reason, I did not join that bandwagon. Probably because I’m typically ungrateful. So here is my attempt at getting up to speed with them. A list of 14 things I’m thankful for and why (in no particular order):

1. I’m thankful that I get to experience life in Barranquilla. It has been challenging and difficult at times, but I know I am the better for it.

2. I’m thankful for my mom and Billy. Without them. I definitely would not have survived my transition into life as a grown-up. They have been there for me emotionally, spiritually, and financially. I owe them an unpayable debt.

3. I’m thankful for my awesome sisters. All four of you mean more to me than I can express. I love that we can laugh together and that we can celebrate each others’ successes and support each other through the “failures.” I love you all!

4. I’m thankful for my mutt Abelard. He has been my little shadow for three years. It’s been a difficult few months without him and I’m sure he’ll have some trouble transitioning back into my care. But I love that crazy dog even when he poops in the house and eats things he shouldn’t and gnaws on my dresser. He makes everyday a little more interesting.

5. I’m thankful for my nieces and nephews. These kids light up my life. I’ve watched some of them grow from adorable little babies who just wanted to curl up on my chest and go to sleep to amazing young adults. And for the younger ones, I’m enjoying watching you grow and learn. All of you make life worth living. I’m so blessed to be your aunt.

6. I’m thankful for my brothers. Ryan, I have some great memories of when we were kids. I hope that we can make more now that we are adults. Jason, I’m so thankful that we were finally able to meet! It’s been a great two years getting to know you and your family. I love you!!

7. I’m thankful for Monica and Alvaro, my Colombian parents. I’m constantly amazed by their generosity and hospitality – not just to me, but to everyone that they encounter. May I learn to be that gracious.

8. I’m thankful for Divine Life. I’ve been a member of this particular community since the summer of 2004. This community has been there to support me during some of the darkest moments of my life. They have also been there to celebrate with me through my successes. I’ve learned more about grace and forgiveness and hope and love from you all than you will ever know. I miss you all and cannot wait to be back amongst you. (fingers crossed that you are missing me, too!)

9. I’m thankful for my dad. He and I are a lot alike in that we are both very hardheaded and stubborn. It is this that makes us argue so much. But I’m grateful that I get to hear his stories a hundred times and that we have a good relationship. It has taken many years on my part to get to this point, but I’m thankful that I won’t have any regrets about our relationship when all is said and done.

10. I’m thankful for Colombian style hotdogs. Seriously, they are delicious. I’m going to learn how to make them before I come home.

11. I’m thankful that I can at least understand some Spanish, even if I can’t speak it yet. It definitely helps that I can figure some things out on my own.

12. I’m thankful for the way God has provided for me to get to Colombia and while I’ve been here. I still need a few hundred dollars to get me home, thanks to a passport issue, but I’m confident that God will handle that.

13. I’m thankful for good friends. I’m thankful that I can laugh until I cry with you. I’m thankful that you forgive my stupidity and let me be myself. I’m thankful that you stuck with me when I was difficult to tolerate. I miss you all!!!!!!!

14. I’m thankful for Skype. Without it, I would be very limited with my contact home. I’m so grateful that anytime I’m homesick, I can call my family or friends and speak in English really fast!

So there you have it, up to date gratitude 🙂





It Hurts Like a Billy-Oh

30 08 2011

This post is very personal.  It’s a bit more personal than I’m comfortable with, but I think that I should share it anyway because people want to know what this whole experience is like, not just the good parts.  Right?

This week was rough.  We’re talkin’ curl-up-in-the-fetal-position-cry-myself-to-sleep rough.

I was lonely.  Not the kind of lonely that made me want to go home.  Not the kind of lonely borne out of self-pity.  It was an entirely new kind of lonely.  It was isolation.  Yes, I have friends here.  Yes, I live with people who speak English.  Yes, I can call home whenever I want.

But I was still lonely.

Have you ever had an experience of loss (a break-up, death, end of a friendship, etc.) ?  Do you remember how it felt like something was literally ripping open your chest?  That’s what this felt like, except without the loss.

I emailed by pastor back home asking him to pray with me and for me.  I told him that I needed an English-speaking friend that was fully, 100% fluent that I could have an easy conversation with (perhaps even a thoughtful, deep conversation) or I was going to have a meltdown.  In typical Chris Green fashion, he encouraged me to embrace the isolation, to lean into God, and to not resent the process.

I’m trying. It’s not easy.  And I’m fairly certain I have some more time in this lonliness before I get the friend I so desperately want…if I get the friend.

Upon reflecting on this time, I was reminded of the book The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis (part of The Chronicles of Narnia).  In the story, there is a character named Eustace.  Lewis writes, “There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.”

He is not very likeable and he doesn’t try to be.  He resents the fact that he is in Narnia and that he is stuck on the ship, “The Dawn Treader,” against his will.  The crew lands on an island where a dragon lives. Eustace, in attempt to avoid work,  stumbles upon the dragon only to discover that it is dying.  He decides to tell everyone that he killed the dragon.

Now, as we all know, dragons are hoarders of treasure.

With the dragon dead, Eustace finds that he is surrounded by all sorts of gold and diamonds and jewels.  He finds a golden bracelet and puts it as high on his arm as he can so that it won’t come off.  Then he falls asleep.  When he wakes, he discovers that he has turned into a dragon overnight.  This discovery of his dragoned self humbles Eustace and he seeks to make amends with the crew for his behaviour, but that’s difficult since he’s a dragon that can’t talk. It seems that he is set to be a dragon forever now.

But then comes this beautiful scene. Aslan comes to Eustace and tells him to unrobe.  Eustace tries to remove the dragon skin several times, but each time he finds that he is just as much a dragon as he was before.  Finally, Aslan helps him.  The way to remove the dragon skin is deep, painful clawing into the flesh.

This is how Eustace describes it:

“Then the lion said – but I don’t know if it spoke – You will have to let me undress you. I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.

“The very first tear he made was so deep and I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know – if you’ve ever picked the scab of a sore place. It hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away.”

“And there was I as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me – I didn’t like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I’d no skin on – and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I’d turned into a boy again.”

All that to say: If I need to be undragoned, so be it.  It hurts like a billy-oh, but it is necessary.  I cannot undragon myself.  If this is part of the process, I welcome it.  I don’t want to be a dragon anymore.





The Sacraments

7 08 2011

I’ve been going to church here now for basically a month. Sometimes I have a translator, but mostly I do not. I know some of the praise and worship songs in English. I try to sing along to those, but it is difficult singing in English when they are singing in Spanish. And everyone greets everyone with a kiss on the cheek. I forget sometimes and there’s an awkward half hand-shake half kiss between me and some poor Colombian citizen who was unfortunate enough to try to greet me.

Most of the time I feel very out-of-place and totally confused.

Don’t get me wrong, I really do enjoy it. I try really hard to listen to the words of the songs and sermon. I pray that I will pick up on the gist of what is going on. So far, I am failing. But I have ample opportunity to try again and again.

But today, for the first time, I understood what was happening.  We took communion together.  It was a very powerful moment for me.  Yes, I’ve taken communion in other churches and in another country before, but it was not this meaningful for me.  I noticed my excitement for understanding something in the service.  Then I realized it was an excitement for the Meal.  I remembered something my pastor Chris back home said once: Any Christian at any time should be able to go to a service and know it is Christian by this meal.  Or something like that.

This meal transcends the awkwardness of being a gringa in a Latin church.  It made me a part of this community in ways that I will never understand.  It was the first time that I wasn’t just following someone else’s lead (sit down, stand up, pray, sing, etc.).  I was following the same lead as everyone else. I was responding to the invitation, “Come and eat.”

Then, there were three baptisms.  It was very moving to watch these three officially enter into the family, especially considering my revelation during communion.

These Sacraments are what make me a part of this body, not my ability to speak Spanish or play guitar or any of that.  It was good to remember that.





On Diet Dr. Pepper, Languages, and Diamonds

19 05 2011

Diet Dr. Pepper:

About a week and a half ago I decided one morning to stop drinking diet Dr. Pepper.  I could literally drink 2 big gulps a day without even the slightest bit of shame or guilt or disgust.  Then one morning I woke up and said to myself, “Self, you have a problem. The buck stops here.”  I haven’t had DDP since that morning.  (note: I did have a regular coke at game night and a coke zero at Mazzios on Sunday night…but I never said I was quitting soda, now did I?  Leave your judgment at the door, please.)

In all reality, it hasn’t been that hard.  There are two times it gets really difficult.

One: when it’s right after my lunch break, I’ve sat outside in the nice warm sun, ate a nice little lunch, then tried to go back to work.  COMA. And I don’t have any refreshing DDP to help snap me out of it.  That’s rough.

Two: when I think about what I’m denying myself too much.  The more I think about it, the more I want it. The more I want it, the more likely I am to freak out and collapse on the floor at work (it happened today – but mostly as a joke to make Vivi laugh…but just mostly.).

Anyway, we’ll see how this goes. 

Languages:

I have a fascination with languages and people who can speak more than one.  I keep telling myself I’m going to be fluent in a second language, but it’s very difficult to learn a second language when your first is the only one you ever hear.  So, I know a bit of Spanish – like, enough to tell someone I don’t know Spanish or get arrested.  I know a bit more Russian.  Well, maybe not more, but I think about Russian more so I remember it more readily than I do Spanish.  Then there is Greek.  I can read it and, with the right tools, translate it.  I cannot at all form a sentence in it on my own.  Finally, I know like 4 phrases in French.  French hurts.  Seriously, it uses a whole set of muscles I didn’ t even know could be used in talking.  My whole jaw ends up sore within 30 minutes of lessons. 

Well, for a PhD in my program, I must demonstrate a reading proficiency in Greek, Hebrew, and 2 other modern languages (Typically French, Spanish, or German). 

THIS. IS. TERRIFYING.

I’m going to have to prove that I can keep at least 4 additional languages differentiated in my head. I start Hebrew tutoring next week.  I should probably start back up on a Greek regimen.  I just can’t decide if I want to do French or German (Spanish is a given).  Suggestions?

Diamonds:

I don’t want a diamond.  If some *ahem* lucky fella ever asks me to marry him, I don’t want a diamond.  I want a simple band (not gold, please).  I don’t want diamonds to be on it anywhere.  My number one reason is because, unless he mined it himself, I don’t trust that it’s not a blood diamond.  The other reason is because I’m terribly hard on all my belongings.  I’m not a gentle creature.  A very expensive diamond sticking off my finger will inevitably get knocked off.  Not worth the risk.

So, if you plan on asking me to marry you, I suggest getting me a simple band, preferably with something terribly romantic engraved on the inside.  In platinum. 🙂





FEMME discussion

6 07 2009

This is something i wrote for the women’s group at my church. A little less formal of a writing style on this one. enjoy!

Before you read this, I suggest reading Genesis 29:1-30:24. If you feel ambitious, read the entire “Jacob cycle” (27-35); it’s interesting stuff.
The story of Rachel and Leah is an interesting, and often overlooked, one. The part of their story I want to focus on details the births of the first eleven sons and the one daughter. Many commentators have read this story and celebrate the birth of the tribe’s of Israel. In most Bibles, the caption for this passage is something along the lines of “The Birth of Jacob’s Sons.” While this is true, it immediately puts the reader in a position to read with blinders on, so to speak, ignoring what can be learned from Leah and Rachel. The names they give their children tell the hidden story of the sisters, and it is this story from which I think we can learn.
After the debacle that is the Leah-Jacob-Rachel wedding triangle, the story moves us into the birthing narratives. First to conceive is Leah. This is an interesting twist in the story. As one might guess, motherhood was highly valued in ancient Israel, and a wife that was not bearing children could be reconsidered, to put it delicately. So it is quite interesting that, after we are told that Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah, Leah is the first to bear children. As the first wife, Leah was chief wife (polygamy was a common practice and seemed to be more concerned with protection and survival than “love” in the way we think of it); as the wife producing children she was the wife with social status. But notice how she names her children:

Reuben: “Because the Lord has seen my affliction, now surely my husband will love me.” Her first son is conceived through God’s direct intervention (this is why you should have your Bible close by…). But Leah assumes God is intervening to bring Jacob closer to her.

Simeon: “Because the Lord has heard that I am hated, he has given me this son also.” Her thoughts are still on her unloving husband, not on the work of God in her life.

Levi: “Now this time my husband will be joined to me, because I have borne him three sons.” Levi is the only son she bears whose naming does not acknowledge God at all. For a moment, Leah seems to lose her awareness of God’s work with her attention solely on Jacob’s approval.

Judah: “This time I will praise the Lord.” This naming is, for me, the most interesting. Jacob is not even alluded to. Interestingly, Matthew’s gospel traces the genealogy of Jesus to the tribe of Judah. The one child born in pure praise to God is the ancestor of Jesus. I find this beautiful (albeit a digression on my part).

After this sequence of births, we get a rare glimpse into the domestic life of Rachel and Jacob. Rachel becomes envious of Leah and demands that Jacob give her children lest she die. It is evident by the multiple children borne by Leah that the fertility problem does not lie with Jacob (though even if it did, no one would ever know; women were thought of as “incubators” so any problem with reproduction was because of the incubator, not the seed). Her demand for children is followed by one of the most darkly ironic statements in the Bible: “or I shall die”. Genesis 35:16-18 reports that Rachel died during the birth of her son Benjamin.

Jacob’s response to Rachel is very important. He told her that it is God who has withheld children from her. I think this indicates two things about their relationship: that Jacob longed to give Rachel children and that Jacob trusted in God’s timing (though some have read this as Jacob pushing the “blame” on God). Unfortunately Rachel was too caught up in her competition with Leah to trust God. This is evidenced by the next portion of the text.

Rachel recruits her maid Bilhah to bear children for her (it always amazes me how quickly the Sarah/Hagar story is forgotten). “So that she may bear on my knees” is interesting. Some think it was a sort of adoption ritual. Others, myself included, think it was a kind of fertility wish. The birthing mother would stand while giving birth and the mid-wife would lie on her back with her knees up to catch the child as it was born. It was thought to magically increase fertility in the midwife. Note the children’s names:

Dan: “God has judged me, and has also heard my voice and given me a son.” Naphtali: “With mighty wrestlings I have wrestled with my sister, and have prevailed.”

Rachel feels in some ways vindicated (by God and in front of Leah) in having these children, but the reality is that Leah still had more kids and they were from her own womb. Regardless of her obvious advantage, Leah is provoked to jealousy. She volunteers Zilpah for childbearing to Jacob. She conceives and names them:

Gad: “Good fortune!” Asher: “Happy am I! For the women will call me happy.”

Note the difference between how Leah names these children and how she names her natural borne children. With the first four sons, Leah recognizes the role of God in the birth though she may be confused as to why God was involved. Here Leah is solely concerned with herself. She has “good fortune” and she will be called happy by the other women.

It is interesting that for Leah(29:31, 30:17) and Rachel(30:22) God opens their wombs so that they can conceive. With Bilhah and Zilpah (the maids) God is not said to open their wombs. The children borne of Bilhah and Zilpah are borne of the works of Rachel and Leah.

The next scene is full of as much manipulation and dehumanizing usage as the scene with Zilpah and Bilhah. Only this time Jacob is the pawn in the sisters’ struggle with one another. Rachel asks Leah for the mandrakes Reuben brought her. This seems innocent enough, but Rachel likely understood mandrakes to be a powerful fertility drug. Leah’s response is bitter and jealous: “Is it a small matter that you have taken away my husband? Would you take away my son’s mandrakes also?” Rachel agrees to let Jacob “lie” with Leah that night in exchange for the mandrakes. When Leah informs Jacob of the agreement, he silently complies.

God again opens Leah’s womb and she conceives two more sons and one more daughter:

Issachar: God has given me my hire, because I gave my maid to my husband.” It is possible that Leah was trying to aggravate Rachel with this. If “bearing on my knees” is a fertility wish, then it did not work for Rachel. Leah was the first to conceive.

Zebulun: “God has endowed me with a good dowry; now my husband will honor me, because I have borne him six sons.” Notice that she claims to have given Jacob six sons, ignoring the two borne of Zilpah. Leah here refuses responsibility for what she has given another. She has also gone back to square one, hoping Jacob will give her the acknowledgement she deserves for the children she has produced.

After this, Leah gives birth to Dinah, who unfortunately is given no naming speech. This is followed by God opening Rachel’s womb for no apparent reason. We are told that God remembered Rachel and she gave birth to Joseph saying “God has taken away my reproach; may the Lord add to me another son!” Rachel is still unsatisfied with her lot. Bilhah’s children were not enough, and neither is Joseph. She does eventually have another son, and dies in childbirth, naming him Ben-oni (son of my sorrow). Jacob calls him Benjamin.

What can we learn from these two sisters and their struggle with one another? First, I think it is quite obvious that neither celebrates the work of God in their life. They see the birth of their children as a means to an end and not an end in itself. They, being unsatisfied in their situation, refused to enjoy and appreciate the happiness God was giving them. Leah’s constant struggle for the love of Jacob, endlessly threatened her relationship with her sister. Rachel’s incessant need for children, most likely for social gain, threatened her marriage. Both sisters, instead of rejoicing that God had opened their wombs, craved more so that they could attain what they wanted: love and approval from those around them.

This happens in our life as well. We live in a society that judges us on performance, but we fortunately do not serve a God that does so. If we base our judgments of those around us on how well they perform and not on what God says about them, we sin. Those who regarded Leah highly because she bore Jacob many children were wrong to do so. They allowed the societal standards to determine her value. Had Jacob divorced Rachel because of her infertility, he would have been wrong to do so. He would have judged her worth on her function. We cannot allow ourselves to judge another on performance. We must trust what God has said about us and live as though that were the reality. And this is not easy.

We also learn what jealousy can do between two people. We cannot allow ourselves to be envious over what God is doing in another. Leah could not be content that God knew she was unloved and blessed her with many children. Rachel could not accept that the love of Jacob was enough and craved something that was not for her. Their jealousy led them to use their maids as objects to attain more children. They played God and ultimately dehumanized others. I have heard it argued that it was socially acceptable to provide a surrogate in the event of infertility to continue the family lineage (and I am convinced of a few instances where perhaps it is), but in this story I do not believe it is. Jacob has his heir; the lineage is intact. Bilhah and Zilpah are used to gain a want, not a need. They are ignored as soon as their function is performed; Rachel and Leah are still unsatisfied. Attempts to attain what God has for you outside of God’s timing, though seemingly fruitful, are ultimately futile and dissatisfying.

I think we can learn a lot more from these two sisters, but this is a start. Here are some questions to help guide your response:

1. In what ways are you viewing the work of God in your life as a means to an end, and not rejoicing in the work itself?

2. How have you judged those on your life? On performance or on truth? How do you change the tendency toward performance-based judgment?

3. How has jealousy over God’s work in others hindered you from growing into who God would have you to be? How can you rejoice in the growth of others without allowing jealousy to blind you to your own growth?

4. How have you dehumanized and used others (even in socially acceptable ways) to attain what you want?





III: Leah and Rachel

19 03 2009

1. Introduction

2. The Backdrop

3. Leah’s first four naming speeches

“Now the Lord saw that Leah was unloved” (sane’).  This word is used only seven times in Genesis.  Twice it is used in the Rebekah/Isaac narrative, twice referring to Leah, and three times referring to Joseph.  Based on the uses within the Joseph/brothers story[1], I suggest that the term does not necessarily mean rejected or unloved, though that may be part of it.   

In the Joseph narrative, the brothers “hate” Joseph.  He is arrogant and acting as if he were the oldest of the sons.  They first hate him when they see that Jacob loves him more (37:4), they hate him more when Joseph tells the brothers his dream (37:5), and they hate him even more when they realize that the dream means Joseph will have dominion over them (37:8). 

Within this context, at least, this word seems to mean more than an emotional response, though not completely separate from it.  Joseph is hated because he is a younger son acting as if he is the eldest.  He’s operating in a position that, at least in his brothers’ minds, does not belong to him. 

Taking this into consideration, the problem in the Leah/Jacob union is not Leah.  The problem is that Leah is not Rachel.  The problem, then, lies truly in Jacob.  Leah is the first wife, the chief wife.  She is also the wife that is producing offspring.  Jacob worked fourteen years for Rachel.  Rachel is the woman he wanted from the moment they met.  Jacob was tricked into marrying Leah.  It comes as no surprise that Jacob despises Leah since she is in the position Jacob wishes for Rachel. 

Whatever this meant for the couple sexually is unclear.  What the text does reveal about their marital relationship is two-fold. First, she bore him six children, presumably within the (second set of) seven years he was working for Laban to “earn” Rachel.  This indicates the fertility of Leah.  Secondly, Leah did not have the same control of Jacob’s sexual activity as Rachel did.  This is indicated in 30:15 when Rachel gives Leah permission to lie with Jacob (to which I will return). 

In Leviticus 12, the days of ritual uncleanness after the birth of a child are laid out for women based on the sex of the child.  It is unlikely that Jacob and the women would have practiced such strict guidelines, as this story is set in a time prior to the giving of the law.  Regardless, of the amount of time spent after the birth of one child and the conception of the next, it is evident that Leah spent very little of her first years of marriage without being pregnant (she had seven children in seven years!).  Leah’s perpetual pregnancies may be the cause of minimal sexual activity between the couple.  Genesis 30:9 says that “Leah saw that she stopped bearing,” but the text gives no indication that it is due to a sexual abstinence with Jacob.  What the text does indicate is that, regardless how many children Leah were to bear for Jacob, he would never satisfy Leah’s desire for him.  This is evident in the speeches that accompany the naming of her children.

There could be several reasons why Jacob did not rid himself of Leah.  Perhaps he was afraid of what Laban might do if he divorced her.  Perhaps he felt an obligation toward his kinswoman that would not allow him to forsake her completely.  Or perhaps he realized that she was the wife that would provide the children to carry on his lineage.  The text does not indicate any reason why Jacob did not divorce Leah.  In his setting, there was no Torah to define his actions.  There was something that kept Jacob bound to Leah, but whatever that something is, the author either takes it for granted or finds it to be of little import for the purpose of this narrative.

 

Leah is the first to become pregnant, and the narrative sets Leah’s fertility and rejection by Jacob in contrast with Rachel’s barrenness and favor.  “When the Lord saw that Leah was unloved, he opened her womb; but Rachel was barren” (29:31).  Leah bears four children consecutively in 29:31-35.  The first three naming speeches are all linked to her relationship with Jacob, and three of the four are connected to her belief in God. 

“Leah conceived and bore a son, and she named him Reuben; for she said, ‘because the Lord has looked on my affliction; surely now my husband will love me'” (29:32).  Reuben is her first-born.  His name literally means “see, a son.”  Her speech is two-fold.  She first acknowledges the favor that God has shown her.  God has indeed seen her affliction and allowed her to bring forth a son (see 29:31).  She concludes that since she has given Jacob his firstborn son, “surely now my husband will love me.”  The narrator quickly moves on to the conception and birth of Leah’s next son, which, though not explicitly stating it, assumes the paternal role of Jacob.[2]

“She conceived again and bore a son, and said, ‘Because the Lord has heard that I am hated, he has given me this son also’; and she named him Simeon” (29:33). Leah’s naming of her and Jacob’s second son indicates that the birth of Reuben did not solve her problem as she thought it would.  “The name Simeon is associated with the term sm’, literally, ‘he who hears.’[3]”  Leah believes that God has heard that she is unloved, and has therefore given her Simeon also.  She does not mention Jacob in this speech, but he may be understood as the one that hates her.  Perhaps she views Simeon as a means of making up for the fact that she is hated, or as a means (as she hoped with Reuben) of gaining Jacob’s love.  The text is ambiguous at best.  Regardless of the way Leah interpreted the birth of Simeon, it was not enough to satisfy her longing for her husband, as is evident with the birth of her third child.

“Again she conceived and bore a son, and said ‘Now this time my husband will be joined to me, because I have borne him three sons’; therefore he was named Levi” (29:34). For the first time, Leah recognizes Jacob as a father.   She does not mention God in this speech, and it is the only one of her naming speeches for her own sons that does not.  Levi’s name is connected with the word yillaweh, which literally means “he will be joined[4].”  Leah is still not satisfied with her lot.  She has three children and boys at that, giving her a place in her society, but she does not have her husband’s love.

“She conceived again and bore a son, and said, ‘This time I will praise the Lord’; therefore she named him Judah; then she ceased bearing” (29:35).  With the birth of her fourth child, Leah’s attitude seems to shift.  Her first three sons encouraged her hope that Jacob would love her, but there is no mention of her relationship with Jacob in this speech.  Leah simply says, “This time I will praise the Lord.”  Judah’s name has an “association with the term ‘odeh, literally ‘I will praise.’[5]”  There is no clear reason why she changes with the birth of Judah.  Perhaps she recognized that, despite being rejected by her husband, she was favored by God.  Or she may have, only momentarily, felt as though Jacob’s attitude toward her had changed.  Or she may have been grateful simply for having another son.  Whatever her reasoning, Leah is resolved, if not content, to praise God.  Rachel is another story.


[1] I will use this text as it deals with family relationships and not that of nations as in 24:60 with Rebekah.

[2] Joan Ross-Burstall. “Leah and Rachel: A Tale of Two Sisters,” Word and World Vol 14, no 2 (1994). pg. 169

[3] ibid., pg. 170

[4]Ibid., pg. 170

[5] Ibid., pg. 170