Give Me Babies or Give Me Death

OT: Genesis 30-31

Genesis 30

Rachel figures out that she’s barren and freaks out at Jacob: “Give me children! If you don’t, I may as well be dead” (30:1). Keep in mind that Leah has had four sons by Jacob, so the problem is obviously not on his end. Jacob gets pissed off and insists that God, not he, is keeping her from having kids. Rachel pulls a Sarah and tells Jacob to sleep with her servant, Bilhah, saying that “she will give birth for me” (3). I’m not sure why Bilhah’s kids count for Rachel but her sister Leah’s kids don’t, but in any case, Jacob sleeps with Bilhah and has two sons with her, Dan and Naphtali. Rachel sees this as a victory over Leah, somehow.

Now Leah’s stopped having children, so it’s her turn to freak out and tell Jacob to sleep with her servant, Zilpah, who bears him two sons, Gad and Asher. By the way, this means that, so far, Jacob has had eight sons and zero daughters. I believe the probability of this occurring is about 0.4%, but somebody should check my math on that because it’s been a while since my statistics class.

Anyway, then comes one of my favorite passages so far:

During the wheat harvest, Reuben found some erotic herbs in the field and brought them to his mother Leah. Rachel said to Leah, “Give me your son’s erotic herbs.”

Leah replied, “Isn’t it enough that you’ve taken my husband? Now you want to take my son’s erotic herbs too?”

Rachel said, “For your son’s erotic herbs, Jacob may sleep with you tonight.”

When Jacob came back from the field in the evening, Leah went out to meet him and said, “You must sleep with me because I’ve paid for you with my son’s erotic herbs.” So he slept with her that night. (14-16)

Erotic herbs

If only I had a nickel for every time I’d heard the phrase “Isn’t it enough that you’ve taken my husband? Now you want to take my son’s erotic herbs too?” on daytime TV. I wouldn’t have any nickels, but I would still be sitting here in the library and laughing out loud.

Apparently Leah didn’t need the erotic herbs, because she gets pregnant with another son, Issachar, and then another, Zebulun. This brings Jacob’s total reproductive tally to ten sons and zero daughters, which has a probability of just under 0.1% – in other words, if 1024 different men have 10 children each, only one of them will have all boys. Sorry, I’m getting kind of ADD about Genesis lately. Anyway, Leah has her seventh child (Jacob’s 11th), and this one is a girl, whom she names Dinah.

“Then God remembered Rachel” (22), which seems to imply that he had forgotten her, although I would never have thought of God as capable of forgetting things. Anyway, he lets her get pregnant with a son, whom she names Joseph. When she gets pregnant, she says that God has taken away her shame, which sets a terrible example for women everywhere by teaching them that childlessness should be shameful. guess that all happened in the span of seven years, somehow, because after Joseph is born, Jacob asks Jacob if he can leave yet with his two-to-four wives and his twelve children. Laban has learned from a “divine sign” (27) that God has blessed him because of Jacob, so he offers to pay Jacob whatever he wants. Jacob responds as though he completely didn’t hear a word Laban said, because he keeps talking about how hard he’s worked and how he wants to go start his own household. Laban asks again what he wants to be paid. Jacob says, “Don’t pay me anything” (31), but then describes how he’s going to take some of Laban’s livestock with him – specifically, all the speckled sheep, the black male lambs, and the speckled female goats – which sounds like payment to me. Laban agrees, but then sneakily takes all the speckled goats and black male lambs out of his flock and gives them to his sons so Jacob can’t take them. Then he does some kind of complicated magic spell with tree branches to make Laban’s mating sheep produce speckled young so he can take them, but only the strong ones, or something. I read this part like five times and it still didn’t make sense, but the upshot is that Jacob ends up with a lot of really good sheep and becomes really rich.

Genesis 31

Jacob figures out that Laban doesn’t like him very much anymore since he got really rich off of Laban’s livestock, so God tells him it’s time to go. He tells his wives how God made the sheep have speckled offspring to make him rich, or something. Rachel and Leah are like, “yeah, there’s no wealth left here for us since God gave it all to you, so let’s roll.” Jacob “put[s] his sons and wives on the camels” (17) – what about Dinah? – and Rachel steals all her father’s religious icons for some reason, and they all leave without warning Laban. Laban realizes three days later that Jacob is gone (I think he was out messing with his sheep in the meantime and so didn’t notice), and he and his brothers chase after Jacob and catch up with him in the mountains of Gilead. God warns Laban to “be careful and don’t say anything hastily to Jacob one way or the other” (24). I don’t know why he would hastily say something too nice to Jacob, but okay.

The highlight of modernity

Laban’s like, “Jacob, wtf? Why did you run away without letting me say goodbye to my daughters and see you off with a proper celebration? I could punish you but I won’t because God told me not to, but did you really have to steal my religious icons?” Except instead of just saying that “God” warned him to be nice to Jacob, he calls him “your father’s God” (29), which again sounds to me like we’re in a polytheistic world. Anyway, Jacob’s like, “I was afraid you’d take your daughters away from me, so I left quickly. But I didn’t take your icons. Whoever took them will be put to death. Go ahead and search for them.” He doesn’t know that Rachel had taken them. She’s hidden them in her saddlebags and is sitting on them, so she says to her dad, “I can’t get up for you; I’m having my period” (35). Whaaat? Since when can women on their periods not stand up? Is it just cause they hadn’t figured out tampons back then so it was messy and gross and awkward?

Anyway, Laban doesn’t find the missing images, so Jacob’s like, “What the shit, Laban? You stopped me and searched all my stuff and accused us of stealing when we didn’t? I worked for you for twenty years [apparently after the fourteen years of work for the daughters he worked six more years for the flocks during the whole sneaky-mating-manipulation game] and you kept changing my payment [this part wasn’t really clear in the narration but okay] and I think if God weren’t watching out for me you would have sent me off with nothing.”

Laban’s like, “Well, everything you have is mine – my daughters, my flocks – but there’s nothing I can do now, so let’s make a covenant.” So Jacob sets up another stone as a sacred pillar and tells everyone else to piles other stones around into a mound. Jacob and Laban name the rock pile three different things – seriously – and make it the witness of their covenant, where they promise each other not to cross the rock pile to do harm to each other. They celebrate with a feast and in the morning Laban bids farewell to his daughters and goes home.


Erotic herbs. What are they? Also I like how they’re never used or mentioned again.


It’s depressing that Rachel thinks reproduction is her only purpose in life. Also, why did she steal the images from her dad?

Seriously, what amazing profound lessons am I supposed to be learning from all these stories?!

NT: Matthew 11

Matthew 11

Jesus and his apostles are teaching in a bunch of cities. John the Baptist is in prison when he hears about what Jesus is doing, so John sends Jesus a message by way of his disciples to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” (11:3). Jesus tells the disciples to tell John about the things they’ve seen – the sick healed, the dead raised, and so on.

John the Baptist

Jesus talks to his crowds of followers about John the Baptist, and says that he is the messenger who was sent to prepare the way for Jesus, according to prophecy. He says that “no one who has ever been born is greater than John the Baptist” (11) – yeah, cause he’s a locust-eating BAMF! But Jesus also says that the worst person in the kingdom of heaven is greater than John the Baptist – maybe because everyone on earth sins, even John the Baptist, but you stop sinning when you get to heaven? Jesus says that John the Baptist is “Elijah who is to come” (14). All I know about Elijah is that we leave a seat open for him at Passover, so I guess I’ll have to wait till I get to Exodus to understand this reference.

Jesus makes another opaque analogy, comparing his contemporary generation to a child sitting at a market and complaining that people don’t dance when he plays the flute. Oooookay, Jesus. But I think his main point here is that people aren’t seeing the important things that Jesus and John the Baptist are doing, instead complaining that John seems possessed and Jesus spends too much time hanging out with sinners and so on, “but wisdom is proved to be right by her works” (19) – which sounds like a fancy way of saying “I’m right – you’ll see!” Then Jesus chides the cities where he did his best miracles because the people there didn’t change their sinful ways.

Jesus talks to his dad, praising him for hiding truth from the wise and revealing it to babies. (But why?) He says that nobody knows the Son but the Father and vice versa (except that anybody can know the Father if the Son chooses to reveal him to them). Jesus calls all who struggle under heavy burdens to come to him and put on his yoke instead because it is easy to bear and they will find rest.


John the Baptist is probably in prison for badass civil disobedience. What a BAMF.


Jesus still isn’t making much sense compared to the Sermon on the Mount.


One Response to Give Me Babies or Give Me Death

  1. Nora says:

    In my edition (the New Revised Standard Version; I don’t know, it was a church gift for Coming of Age), “erotic herbs” was translated as mandrake. I don’t know why Rachel was so excited about them, though:

    Apparently they will show up again in the Song of Songs.

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