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Hidden away in the some of the most tedious books of the Bible, among a myriad of unpronounceable names, lies one of the most remarkable stories of fatherhood ever told.
His name was Asher. He was the eighth son of Jacob, born in Paddan Aram, which today is Northern Syria (Gen. 35:26). Remember Jacob had two wives, Leah and Rachel. At different times, when they struggled with infertility, both of them gave their handmaids to Jacob. Asher was born from Leah's handmaid Zilpah. He had an older brother named Gad. At Asher's birth, Leah said, "'How happy I am! The women will call me happy.' So she named him Asher" (Gen. 30:12). Asher means "happy" in Hebrew. So Happy Gilmore wasn't the first to be called Happy!
Asher's inauspicious start
But when you look at the way he started out, I'm not sure how happy he was. He wasn't born from Jacob's favorite wife, Rachel. He wasn't even born from Leah, but from one of her handmaids. Asher didn't have the honor of being the oldest son, like Reuben, nor was he the strongest son—that would have been Judah. He wasn't the doted-on youngest son; that was Benjamin. He wasn't the favorite; that was Joseph. Asher lived his early life in the shadows, learning to be content with the leftovers.
Besides that, Asher grew up in one of history's most dysfunctional families. There was parental favoritism, sibling rivalry, deceit, and longstanding resentment. I hope you know there are really no perfect families in the Bible. There's hardly a single model family for anyone to look up to with either awe or envy. Adam and Eve are no sooner out of the garden than one of their sons murders the other. Noah's sons are forced to devise a strategy to hide their father's drunken shame. Jesse's sons, ...
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Mark Mitchell is pastor of Central Peninsula Church in Foster City, California.