Monday, February 13, 2012

What's the Price of Mandrakes?

I’ll let you sleep with my husband if I can have some of your son’s mandrakes. That sounds ridiculous, but it’s exactly what happens in today’s OT lesson (Genesis 30:1-24). I’ve never had a mandrake, but they must be pretty good.

Actually, I had to look mandrake up on the Internet to find out what it was. I was picturing a citrus fruit (don’t know why), but it turns out that it’s a root that has hallucinogenic properties. But before you conclude that Rachel was willing to trade her husband to Leah for a ride on the magic bus, consider that mandrake and ginseng are similar and that ginseng was thought to have fertility enhancing properties. Well, at least that’s what Wikipedia says, so who knows.

But what we do know is that Rachel was pretty desperate to have a child. Her archrival and older sister Leah had already given their husband Jacob some children and had even gone past the age of childbearing, so letting Jacob crawl back into her sister’s bed didn’t seem so bad to Rachel. I’m not sure you could say that the plan backfired, but Leah did end up having more children. Eventually, however, the mandrake kicked in, and Rachel conceived and gave birth to Joseph. And we all know what happens to Joseph.

But what I’m interested in is how God works in this situation. Madrakes traded for sex. Tribes of Israel founded in the rival beds of sister wives and their servants. And yet through all of this it’s Leah who gave birth to Judah, who gives birth to the royal line and eventually Jesus. What does that mean?

To me, it means that hindsight is important. The old saying that hindsight is 20/20 doesn’t quite get it. I think this story suggests that until we’re generations beyond a circumstance we might be completely blind to God’s will in the situation. How can we discern God’s plan in the midst of a sex-for-roots scenario? The answer is that we can’t. And that’s where faith comes in.

We must look back over the history of God’s relationship with humanity and see that, in the long run, God takes care of us. He works through even the weirdest and unholiest arrangements to reveal his will for the world. Does that mean that God is really just our ability to make sense of situations? It’s pretty hard to imagine humanity stumbling through the various calamities we’ve brought upon ourselves and maintaining a confidence that God is real unless he had been guiding us through history all along. I look at moments like this one from Genesis 30—completely convoluted—and take comfort that it took generations for Israel to realize how it all worked out. That means I don’t have to figure it all out today. Or even tomorrow.

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