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The Endurance of God's Promises

God still cares for his people, even when we take our eyes off him.


As we read the verses this morning, I admit that my mind wandered a bit. And though I'm not proud of what I thought about, I admit that my mind immediately went back to the television talk shows that dominated television in the 1990s and 2000s. Most started as an interactive show – interesting or somewhat controversial guests tell their story, and the audience gets to ask questions.

Over time, any seriousness that was present in the beginning had disappeared and shows became less interested in information and dialogue and more interested in showing the worst of humanity. Remember when Geraldo Rivera had white supremacists on his show? A riot broke out and he was hit in the face with a chair. This was around the time when the shows became more debaucherous.

Other shows promoted sinful lifestyles and strange obsessions. Infidelity and promiscuity were the norm. Strange and deviant lifestyles also played a prominent role on these television shows. It seems that the more salacious a program was, the longer it stayed on air. After all, who ever gets tired of finding out who a child’s father really is?!

One show always comes to mind. I tried to forget it, but I couldn’t get it out of my mind that this passage sounds a lot like The Jerry Springer Show. I hope you don’t remember this show – I try not to, but what I remember was that friends and family members would do terrible things to each other, fight on stage, and the audience loved it.

The show stayed on the air for 27 seasons for a reason, and it wasn’t because the program was any good. People watched the show because of depravity. The guests on the show were proud of their sin and the people who watched enjoyed seeing the suffering of others.

Families were destroyed because of the selfishness and recklessness of individuals. Marriages were broken. While they didn’t show children, I wonder what happened to the kids in these completely dysfunctional families.

Now, it’s been years since I’ve seen anything from The Jerry Springer Show but I remember how uncomfortable it often was. Any person with any understanding of depravity or with a heart that breaks for how lost people are would be uncomfortable with these tragic stories.

We moan about how the world is going to hell and it sure seems like that when we see such horrific things happening. It’s even easy to think that the world is worse than it’s ever been. I’d argue that the world has always been terrible – it’s just that we can’t avoid it anymore.

It used to be that most people could avoid seeing terrible things by avoiding certain parts of town or certain neighborhoods. If you had means, you’d move to a wealthier area. But bad things still happen there, just behind closed doors. And now, these things are in the open. They’re on our televisions and are accessible with a few taps on your phone.

Ancient Talk Show

Yes, the world is bad, but it’s been bad ever since Adam and Eve decided to disobey God. Our passage shows us that the world has not really changed much. This part of the Bible isn’t any worse than what was aired on The Jerry Springer Show, is it? This passage is an ancient talk show.

We’ll see how sin doesn’t just affect us, it infects entire families. We’ll see that sin often creates more sin until everything is out of control. Again, this is the stuff talk show producers dream about.

This can make us uncomfortable. This passage is uncomfortable, especially when we’ve been taught our whole lives about the heroes of the faith. When all that we know about Jacob is that he was a man of God’s choosing and that he did wonderful things, we miss out on his humanity.

We’ve seen that Abraham did some terrible things. He failed to trust the promise of God and it led to the sexual abuse of Hagar. As we progress through Scripture, we’ll see people like Moses and David, two men who are used by God for great things, but their sin caused problems for themselves and for others.

This is what’s happening in our text today. It’s one of those parts of Scripture that we gloss over or avoid altogether because it’s uncomfortable. Most of us don’t want to talk about multiple wives, abuse, or bad marriages, so we skip over sections of the Bible that talk about those things.

We don’t enjoy reading the Bible and seeing things that look like a talk show that is highlighting a dysfunctional family. But here we are. So, what I’m going to do this morning is walk through the text. It’s a narrative passage, meaning we won’t need to unpack every word like we do with a passage from the New Testament.

At this point in the story, Jacob is outside of the land of promise. He’s worked seven years for his dream girl, he ends up marrying the sister that he didn’t have any feelings for, then promises to work another seven years for the sister he really wanted. He’s now married to sisters – and he only really cares about one of them.

God has provided for him throughout his life. But as we saw with Abraham, having God’s love and protection doesn’t give us a life of ease. It certainly doesn’t mean someone will stop sinning and live righteously. God is at work with Jacob but, like everyone before him, he makes some terrible decisions that bring calamity and chaos to his life and to the lives of others.

As we move through the narrative books of the Old Testament, this is a pattern that often emerges. But I hope to show you today that God still cares for his people, even when we take our eyes off him.

(Read Genesis 29:31-30:24)

Children of Leah

The first thing we see is the story of Jacob and Leah’s four sons. It says that God saw that Leah was unloved. She’s married to a man that never wanted her and he doesn’t give her the love, attention, or affection that she needs. This isn’t just found in ancient stories in Scripture. This is a story where real people get hurt.

Maybe your story is like this one. Maybe you’ve felt the sting of being rejected, of being abandoned. Plenty of people have tried all that they can to save a marriage – including having children – only to see everything fall apart. Leah was a victim on all sides in this and all that she wanted was for Jacob to love her as his wife.

But he had no interest in a relationship with her. But he still had children with her, meaning that, to Jacob, all she was good for was making babies. In other words, she was only important when Jacob needed her. Jacob abused her and used her for his pleasure and his family line.

But she still had hope that Jacob would come around to one day love her. She had four sons and each one has a story. The first was Reuben, which means, “See, a son!” Leah credits God for this blessing.

Now, there’s a lot to this story that the Bible doesn’t tell us, but Leah had emotions just like us so it’s not hard to imagine what was going on in her heart and head at this point. She’s lonely and then she has a son. God has given her something to live for and maybe, just maybe, this would be the chance for Jacob to finally love her.

But still nothing. Then she has a second son, Simeon. His name means “heard,” meaning that God has heard Leah’s cry. It’s not a stretch at all to think that Leah kept hoping that a child would fix her broken marriage. She said that she was unloved. Jacob didn’t hear but God heard.

Her situation didn’t get any better when she had Levi, whose name in Hebrew means “joined.” Leah prayed that her husband would become attached to her.

Leah gave birth to three boys for Jacob. This should impress him – at this point in history, providing three sons was impressive and important for the future of the family. There was no doubt that the family line would continue, and Jacob would be remembered by his offspring. He had a dutiful wife who sought his approval and affection, but his heart wasn’t warm to her.

And Leah gives birth to yet another son, Judah, which means “praise.” She was grateful to God for the gifts of four sons. Then, in verse 35, it says that she ceased bearing. This could easily mean that not only did she stop having children, a physical relationship between Leah and Jacob also ended.

Some women understand what Leah felt like. Maybe you’ve been in a marriage where you’ve done so much – including having children – but, outside of a few instances of intimacy, you feel like it’s all but over. Maybe your kids help to keep things together, but you ache for something more than what you have.

God hears and sees what you’re going through. He knows what you’re experiencing, and he hasn’t turned from his children. He doesn’t promise that your life will be easy or that your situation will improve this side of heaven, but he does promise a peace that goes beyond any human understanding.

God also promises that your loneliness, pain, and suffering will one day end. Everyone who trusts in Jesus for life and faith will one day experience what we were created to experience – a life without any hint of need or want. We will have all that we will ever need, and we will be perfectly content. There will one day be no more loneliness or heartache.

But that’s not promised to us here and now. Anyone who peddles this doesn’t understand the Bible or the history of the church. We suffer mightily and a life of comfort and ease in this life have never been part of our story.

But, in the meantime, we still speak against abuse. We speak when people are mistreated. We defend victims and advocate on their behalf. We know that life will be difficult, but we are called to care for the Leah’s of the world. Leah wasn’t created to be a baby factory – she was created to be an image bearer of the Creator.

Children of Servants

But not everyone sees things this way. Rachel – the one Jacob really loved – was desperate for children and demanded that God give them to her. This went beyond asking God to give her the desires of her heart. Rachel blasphemed God, acting as if she could tell God what to do.

Genesis 30:1 says that Rachel saw. This is a parallel to 29:31, where it says that the Lord saw. Rachel saw what the Lord saw: that Leah was being blessed.

A few minutes ago, I said that some here may be Leah. But there are others who may be Rachel. You’ve gotten what you thought was the ultimate prize but then you look around and see that you really want something more.

Leah rightly wasn’t satisfied in her husband, but it seems that she saw her value in how he felt about her. Rachel, on the other hand, saw her value in what she could produce, namely children. Rachel felt that she was not a complete woman unless she was able to bear children.

Isn’t this mess what happens when we aren’t satisfied with what we have? It’s one bad thing after another and everyone seems to be doing and thinking the exact opposite of what they should be. People keep looking at what someone else has in comparison to what they have and think, “That should be me!”

And what do we often do? We figure out a way to get what we want! Rachel comes up with a plan to get children through a surrogate. In verse three, Rachel gives her servant to Jacob. Sound familiar? This is the exact same thing that Abraham and Sarah did to Hagar in Genesis 16.

Rachel’s servant Bilhah had two children, Dan and Naphtali. Dan means “judge” and Nephtali means “struggle.” Fitting names. And as if the story couldn’t get more disastrous, Leah sees what is happening and takes her servant Zilpah and uses her for another child with Jacob.

I doubt anyone would have thought of what was happening back then this way, but we know what this is: it’s rape. These two servants had no way of saying no. This is the definition of rape and abuse.

Again, Jacob goes along with this horrific plan. So now you have Jacob sinning by not leading well. He’s made terrible decisions. You have Leah who was abused which leads to her making Jacob the most important thing in her life. Rachel is jealous so she takes her servant and allows Jacob to rape her to conceive a child. Then Leah does the same thing.

Leah and Rachel

The strife grows even stronger. Mandrakes were used as an aphrodisiac, and it was thought to enhance the chances of conception. Leah wanted intimacy; Rachel wanted children.

Rachel wanted the mandrakes that Leah had and so she came up with a bargain. Leah wanted Jacob, even if it was just for one night. Remember, she kept trying anything she could to win Jacob’s affection. So, she gives Rachel the mandrakes and gets Jacob in return.

In every turn of this story, Jacob is a willing participant. We don’t see him saying anything, but he certainly never objects. He is a failure in terms of leadership and his unwillingness to do what is right is problematic. He makes his marriage into a form of prostitution.

But this worked for Leah – she had another son. Rachel, like Esau, sold something special for a meal and, like Esau, she would quickly regret it. Rachel would probably prefer for Leah to go away so that she could have Jacob all to herself, but Leah again has another son and a daughter as well.

Remember, up to this point in the story, Rachel has been unable to get pregnant. Leah has had seven children. The servants have had children with Jacob, but Rachel – Jacob’s chosen wife – has not had any success.

Now, you would think that God would turn away at so much sin. There is sexual sin, sexual abuse, jealousy, and strife happening in this one family, not to mention a complete reversal of God’s intended design for marriage and the family. And I think you’d be right in thinking that’s what everyone in this story deserved.

But God had a different outcome in mind.

Rachel cries out to God and he hears her prayers. Even though Rachel used prayer as her last option, God still hears it and responds. It took years but Rachel finally became pregnant. As we’ve seen so many times, God is faithful even when we’re not.


There are so many conclusions from this, but I want to give you four right now.

First, God hears and sees what you need and even what you want. God hears your cries. He sees the brokenhearted and the hurting. He sees the victims of injustice. He has compassion on the abused.

This should comfort you, but it may not: God promises that justice will come and that your suffering will one day go away. He promises that those who hurt others will face judgment. But that doesn’t mean that it will come on our schedule.

When you’re hurt, you don’t want to hear that it will be fixed later. You want things to be dealt with immediately. From our perspective, that is certainly the right thing to do. When we see a crime committed, it should be dealt with relatively quickly. We don’t want to see delayed justice.

But we always need to remember that God isn’t bound by our calendar. God’s wisdom is infinite and without any boundaries, so we could even say that because God has promised that something will happen, it’s just as good as if it has already happened. What this means is that, if you’ve been victimized, eternal justice is guaranteed.

Second, you are not defined by anything other than that you are created by God and, if you’re a Christian, that you are a child of God. We are so pressured – by the world and by our own selves – to find our worth in things and people.

For many people, what you do for a living is what gives you worth. How much money one makes determines how valuable they are to society. For others, it’s what one is good at. Still others determine their worth by what they’ve done or what they promise to do.

This has been life changing for me, though I admit I’m still not very good at it. I struggle with criticism and unmet expectations. Why? Well, because I haven’t figured out how to compartmentalize my life. I work where I worship. I work and worship around my circle of friends. Most people have work lives, personal lives, and religious lives. I don’t have that.

Because of that, I struggle with seeing my own value and worth in what I do. Leah saw her worth in being able to win Jacob. Rachel saw her worth in having children. I sometimes see my worth in my ability to pastor.

Obviously, you would have a different set of struggles, but they all have the same root. Maybe you think you have value because of your job. You’re good at what you do so you sink yourself into that. When things don’t go well, you find yourself in despair.

Maybe your worth is in your family. You’re a mom or a dad and that’s what you value the most. If that’s ever taken away from you, you’ll feel like you have nothing to offer.

Whatever it may be, this completely forgets that our value is not in what we do but rather it’s in what we are: children of God. It seems like people who have forgotten this are the ones that keep making colossal mistakes like the ones we see in this passage.

Third, God’s forgiveness of sin does not remove the consequences of bad behavior. The people we’ve been reading about in Genesis were chosen by God for a specific purpose. They all had callings for the kingdom, but they kept trying to do things their own way.

And they all faced severe consequences for it. Simply being a follower of Christ does not remove the consequences of bad behavior. Often, though certainly not always, when someone comes to me and their lives are always a mess, you can look back at decisions that were made that brought them to that place.

Your choices have consequences that may last for the rest of your life. You commit murder, expect to spend the rest of your life in prison. You leave your spouse, expect for your children to never really trust you again. You steal from your employer, you’re going to have a difficult time finding another job. Ultimate forgiveness does not mean that we are free from consequences.

Finally, remember that God’s promises endure through the craziest times. Every key person in this passage tried their best to ruin their lives and the lives of each other. What we’ve been studying today is crazier than anything a talk show could ever book.

So, why did God allow this to happen? Think about the big picture here: God provided children to these people so that his story would progress.

See, if you read the Bible as most people do, a book with some stories and moral tales, you’ll be disappointed when you read a passage like this. You may even find yourself giving up on the faith. That’s because you missed the overarching point to the entire Bible: God’s faithfulness (not ours) brought Jesus to us and gave us forgiveness of sin and life free from eternal guilt. When you see the Bible through that lens, you have no hero but Jesus, and the sins of these people aren’t surprising.

When the gospel is central, these stories don’t wreck your faith, they make you stand in awe at how a holy God would ever want to save any of us.

Ryan Roach is a pastor at First Baptist Church (Alcoa, TN).

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