“Do we hear about Laban getting his payback today, Shirlee?”
“We’ll see if we get that far, Ginny.” Shirlee opened her large-print Bible, flipping to her bookmarked page. Looking up, she began, “Last week, we learned about Jacob getting two wives for the price of . . . well, two. Jacob had agreed with Laban, his mother’s brother, to work for seven years for the hand of his first cousin, Laban’s beautiful daughter Rachel. On the wedding night, Laban sent Leah, his older daughter (Jacob’s less-beautiful first cousin), into the tent. The next morning, Jacob demanded Rachel, the cousin he’d contracted for, and was told he could have her. He’d just have to work for Laban for another seven years. After all, Jacob had already broken Leah’s . . . er, freshness seal.”
“Never mind, Ginny. Today, we’ll see how that two-wives thing works out.”
“I’m guessing not too well,” said John.
“Incest!” shouted Tom. Ginny spun around in her chair. “SHHHHHH! You’ll make Shirlee mad at you again! You don’t want that, do you, Tom?”
Tom put his head down on the desk.
“You may be right, John. Before getting into the story, let’s remember that Laban gave Leah a slave woman named Zilpah as her maid, and gave Rachel a slave woman named Bilhah as her maid.”
God saw that Jacob loved Rachel, much more than he loved Leah. Jacob preferring the wife he’d contracted for over the one who was dumped on him made God angry, so He prevented Rachel getting pregnant, but allowed Leah to conceive a child. Leah rejoiced, saying that now her husband would love her.
And she had a second, and a third, and a fourth son. Their names were Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah. (Genesis 29:31-35)
Rachel was jealous of her sister’s productive womb, and told Jacob to get her pregnant, or she would just die!
Jacob got mad at Rachel, asking her if he was God, that he could decide whether she’d get pregnant. The answer, you may guess, is “no.”
Following in the proud tradition of early Godly women, Rachel ordered her husband to have sex with her slave Bilhah, and get her pregnant instead. (Genesis 30:1-4)
“I just don’t get that,” John mused. “Why would she want her husband to get her slave pregnant? How is that anything like having a child herself? She wouldn’t even be related to the child!”
“Remember that Bilhah was a slave. This means that Rachel owned Bilhah. Bilhah’s womb was Rachel’s womb.” Shirlee was having a tough time explaining this in language appropriate to a Sunday School class. At least she hadn’t had to explain what a hymen was. Freshness seal? What had she been thinking?
“That’s sick!” Ginny looked like she meant every syllable. She was a bit green around the gills at the idea of a woman offering up her slave for sex. “So ‘maid’ includes ‘sex slave’?”
“Slavery is slavery, Ginny. Yes, in those days, ‘maid’ did include ‘sex slave’.”
“I don’t think they had much of a sense of DNA, John,” Mark interjected. “They thought that the man planted ‘seed’, and the woman was just the fertile field.”
“That’s right, Mark. God hadn’t told them about things like DNA, John. He wanted us to discover those things for ourselves!” Shirlee knew she’d beaten the science-obsessed Mark to the punch. He couldn’t declare the Bible ‘scientifically inaccurate’ and distract the class from the story when she had offered a quite reasonable explanation for this lack of information. “Now, let’s get back to the story, shall we?”
Bilhah bore two sons for Jacob, named Dan and Naphtali.
Leah, failing to conceive again, handed off her slave, Zilpah, to add to Jacob’s breeding stock. Zilpah bore two more sons for Jacob, named Gad and Asher.
The years had been passing, and the oldest sons were growing up. Reuben found mandrakes in the field during the wheat harvest, and brought them to Leah. Rachel asked for some, and Leah complained that Rachel had not only taken her man, but now also wanted to take her mandrakes! (Genesis 30:5-15)
“What’s a mandrake?” asked Ginny.
“A plant, Ginny. Food.” Shirlee wasn’t much of an herbologist.
“Mandrake roots look a lot like ginseng roots, which look like little people,” Mark began. “They’re hallucinogenic, and were also used by the ancient Jews as a fertility enhancer in barren women.”
“So . . . Rachel wanted to get high, or to get pregnant?”
“Who knows. Probably both. I imagine if all I had to look forward to was getting pregnant, I’d want to get high,” suggested Mark.
“Thank you for that little science lesson, Mark. Let’s see what happens with the mandrakes, OK?” Shirlee was checking her watch. Getting to Laban’s payback wasn’t looking good today.
Rachel, who was still Jacob’s favorite, suggested that Jacob sleep with Leah in exchange for the mandrakes. (Genesis 30:15-16)
“Whoa there, Shirlee!” exclaimed John. “Rachel is prostituting her husband?”
“I didn’t know she could do that,” added Ginny, amazed.
“Well, pretty much, though it’s not really a polite way to put it, John.”
“Wow, that whole prostituting people out thing really runs in that family, doesn’t it?” John grinned. “All the way back to Abraham, only he got a lot more than a handful of drugs!” Mark laughed out loud, while Ginny giggled nervously, embarrassed by all the talk of whoring.
“That’s enough, John.”
So Jacob slept with Leah, and she had another two sons and a daughter, naming them Issachar, Zebulun, and Dinah. (Genesis 30:17-21)
“Does this woman have a womb, or a clown car?” asked John. “I mean, that’s not normal! Just crankin’ em out like that!”
“Hot dog, bowling alley,” snickered Mark.
“Quiet, you two! This is a church, not some teen hangout joint!” Shirlee was horrified. First the prostitution accusation, now these perverse comments! Blushing, she turned her eyes to the text.
Now, God decided it was Rachel’s turn, so He blessed her with one last son, who she named Joseph. And finally, the two women (and their two slaves) retired from baby production.
Jacob said to Laban that it was time for him to move on. He asked for his wives and children, and prepared to leave. But Laban asked him to stay longer if he was willing, for he felt himself blessed through Jacob. He told Jacob to write his own ticket, asking what he wanted for wages.
Jacob pointed out that Laban’s herds were small when he arrived, but had now grown to a great multitude. Jacob then asked that he could go through the flock, and pick out all the ones with spots and speckles and ringstrakes (that is, stripes) and other discolorations from the cattle and the sheep and the goats, and these would be Jacob’s. Laban agreed.
All the discolored animals were given to Jacob’s sons to care for, a three-day journey from Laban’s flocks. But Jacob tended Laban’s flocks himself. (Genesis 30:22-36)
Mark raised his hand. “Sounds like a fair deal, Shirlee. How is Laban seeing payback here?”
“You’ll see, Mark. Right about now, in fact!”
While Jacob was watching Laban’s flocks, he took out rods of poplar, and hazel, and chestnut wood. He cut strakes in the bark, so the wood below showed. Then he put those rods into the water troughs in front of the flocks when they came to drink when it was time for them to be bred. And they bore speckled and ringstraked calves and lambs.
From then on, when the strong cattle prepared to breed, Jacob put out the rods, and they bore strong but discolored cattle. When the weak and feeble cattle prepared to breed he did not put out the rods, and they bore increasingly weak cattle with normal coloring.
Jacob continued to remove the discolored animals from the flocks, as agreed with Laban, and Jacob’s herds grew with healthy, strong animals while Laban’s grew weak and feeble.
Soon, Jacob had large herds, and many slaves and camels and donkeys. (Genesis 30:37-43)
Mark’s mouth hung open.
“What’s the matter, Mark?” Shirlee gave her most innocent look.
“That’s not possible.”
“What isn’t? Isn’t that the ‘selective breeding’ your eugenicist heroes favor?”
“Very funny. You know what I mean. A bunch of sticks don’t change the coloring of cattle! That’s genetic!”
“With God, all things are possible,” smirked Shirlee.
“So now Laban is poor and Jacob is rich?” Ginny wasn’t sure how to feel about this one.
“That’s right! He got even!”
“But he cheated Laban. Didn’t he?”
“He abided by the terms of their contract. That’s more than Laban did, isn’t it?”
“I suppose . . .”
The church bell clanged, and through the window Shirlee could see the adults leaving the decaying sanctuary. That piece of plywood over the broken stained glass was really getting on her nerves lately.
“Time’s up for this week! You just think about this story, and remember that Jacob was favored by God.”
“Right,” said John. “Because he was shrewd.”
Shirlee had made it to the door, hoping to escape the question she knew was coming. “Yes, Ginny?”
“What did you mean by ‘freshness seal’?”
“I’ll explain next week, dear. I have to run, going to be late meeting a friend for lunch back in Kingsport, sorry!” Shirlee nearly ran down the hall.
Just as Shirlee hit the crash bar on the front door, Mark turned to Ginny. “Let me explain . . .”
Unlocking her car, Shirlee heard a girl’s voice yell out, “That’s sick! Gross!”
Note to self, thought Shirlee. Don’t leave Ginny alone with Mark.