This is a story we know so well – but it bears retelling to arrive at the heart of our discourse. The historical man simply known as Jacob was an accidental polygamist. His grandfather was a polygamist, but his father was a monogamist. He and his brother ended up polygamists. His brother became a polygamist throwing tantrums, but he was tricked into polygamy by his maternal uncle, Laban.
Laban was one mean dude who had a curious policy of no daughter left behind when it comes to marriage. You see Jacob was interested in his ravishing younger daughter, Rachel. The older daughter Leah had a rather dull look. In a movie script move, unscrupulous Laban, substituted the bride in the honeymoon suite! It must have been very dark in the tent because Jacob never realized until morning he slept with the wrong woman!
Essentially therefore, Rachel went through the marriage rites but Leah was presented for the consummation! Checkmate! And to think Rachel’s dowry was a seven-year employment contract. Laban deemed the bride price for Leah. And so Jacob served another seven years to pay off the dowry for Rachel, his one and true love.
Jacob was justifiably angry and he treated Leah the substitute bride with condescending mortification. Leah would suffer immensely under the marriage. Can’t be easy being married to a man who doesn’t love you! The only consolation was she was fertile. Bore six kids for Jacob.
Rachel on the other hand had difficulty taking in. She bore the popular Joseph. Conceiving a second child proved most daunting. And the sisters went to ridiculous ends to outgun each other. They even traded mandrakes for love. In those days mandrakes were considered fertility treatment drug but it is in fact a hallucinogenic! And so Jacob ended up with twelve children – who became the twelve tribes of Israel. At a point the sisters even enlisted the wombs of their female servants in this war of affection. They became surrogate mothers. The servants bore children on their behalf but it was a 2-2, a draw!
Our focus today centers on Rachel’s last delivery, Benjamin. That wasn’t his original name actually. It was Benoni. His birth was particularly difficult and his mother died in the process – a painful case of maternal mortality. With her dying breath she named him Benoni, meaning son of my sorrow. It was Jacob who changed his name to Benjamin. Benjamin means son of my right arm. His name is an expression of power, but why did he change his name to Benjamin? Well, it has to do with covenant.
The events culminating in this incident was the emigration instruction given to Jacob. At the beginning of Genesis 35, God had told Jacob to relocate to a place called Luz but renamed Bethel. This was right after the unsavory episode of the rape of Jacob’s daughter, Dinah by Hamor, a prince of Shechem. Her brothers – Simeon and Levi, who had anger management problems, avenged her defilement with slaughter. They slaughtered an entire town and Jacob became justifiably afraid. He was surrounded by powerful nations, the Canaanites and the Perizzites. He was afraid of retaliation. It was consequent upon this that God told him to leave for Bethel.
He was instructed to build an altar to God at Bethel. Jacob had made this promise to God actually – when he was in dire straits. Essentially therefore God, working through Jacob’s circumstances was moving Jacob to fulfill his promise to God. God works through human circumstances, layering his program upon man’s ordinary course of life. The fulfillment of promises is very critical to God. It’s why he encourages us to fulfill our vows. It all stems from his personal integrity and his official designation as “The faithful God.” God ALWAYS fulfills his promises (Deuteronomy 7:9). He’ll never allow his word to fall to the ground.
On the way to Bethel Jacob’s family gave up all the effigies of foreign gods and amulets in their possession. It was self-ablution and cleansing ritual, a signification of exclusive devotion to Jehovah. And so at Bethel Jacob built an altar to God in honour of God. It’s why he named it El Bethel. El Bethel literally means God, the God of Bethel. This was an expression of a very personal relationship with God.
In building an altar to God, Jacob was following familiar tradition. His dad and grandpa built altars to God. We must not only teach our kids about God, we must teach them godly traditions. And God came for the ceremony. He blessed Jacob for the unique honour. In fact it was from this historic event that the name “Israel” emerged. God changed Jacob’s name to Israel. Israel means “God fights.” Essentially therefore, God would fight on behalf of Jacob. In other words grace was instituted. Generational blessings were affirmed to Jacob at Bethel and the promise of multiplication made. When we uniquely honour God, God blesses us beyond measure.
To cement the covenant Jacob poured wine and oil upon the stone monument he erected of honour God. In doing that he was pointing to the Christ the anointed One. The wine signified his covenant, the oil his anointing. And so Jacob was coming from a place of covenant, a deep spiritual place at the time of Benjamin’s birth. His destiny had been altered, his future redefined. He had transmuted from a singularity to plurality. Jacob’s place in history was assured, all based on God’s unfailing promise.
As painful as the death of Rachel was Jacob was not going to allow the circumstance overwrite his covenant with God. No matter what we are going through we must never lose sight of God’s promise to us. No matter what the circumstances portend in the natural, God’s promise supersedes and overwrites those auguries. Our fix, our gaze must remain the word of God. The covenant we have with Jesus is superior to every circumstance. And he promises us joy in the morning, no matter the darkness of sorrow and pain. God will give you beauty for ashes, and your Benoni will become your Benjamin. Amen.
© Leke Alder| firstname.lastname@example.org