Rachel – The Desperate Mother

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Famous Mothers in the Bible Series
(Note: See end of message for helpful resources on infertility.)

Genesis 30:1-24, 35:16-20

INTRODUCTION: Last week was Mother’s Day, but we’re having another Mother’s Day message today. That’s right, two for the price of one! Last week we looked at Leah, and this week we are looking at Rachel. Rachel and Leah go together. You can’t study one without the other. As sisters these two women shared one father, and as wives they shared one husband. Last week we looked at Leah the unloved mother, and today we will look at Rachel the desperate mother. We will be looking at a number of verses throughout the message today, but let’s begin by just reading the first two verses of Genesis 30. (Read Genesis 30:1-2 and pray.)

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I’ve entitled today’s message: “Rachel – The Desperate Mother.” When I gave the title to our secretary, Linda, earlier this week, she asked, “Aren’t all mothers desperate mothers?” Well, yes, in a certain sense, but we are going to be looking at a very specific cause of desperation this morning, and that is the problem of infertility. How we deal with the pain of infertility?

Although we will be mainly addressing infertility within the context of marriage, a lot of what we will say this morning is also applicable to single women who would like to be married and desire to be mothers as well.

Infertility is a medical diagnosis that is made when a couple has had more than a year of normal, unprotected intercourse without conceiving a child. Infertility is more common than most people realize, affecting one in six couples of reproductive age. And it causes a lot of potential mothers, and fathers, great pain.

The hard truth is that nowhere in the Bible does God promise we’ll all have children. Rachel was barren, and she suffered the deep pain of infertility. She desperately wanted to have children, and, as we’ll see, she made some questionable decisions in her attempts to fill this void.

The Bible recognizes the pain of infertility. We read in Proverbs 30:15-16: “There are three things that are never satisfied, four that never say, ‘Enough!’: the grave, the barren womb, land, which is never satisfied with water, and fire, which never says, ‘Enough!’” (Proverbs 30:15-16) It’s a verse that speaks of things that have a continual ache or desire that never seems to be fulfilled, that never seems to go away.

It is in difficult situations like this that we need to turn to God. God will help you through the pain of infertility. We need to be careful to bring our pain to God so that we do not make bad decisions because of the real pain we are experiencing in our lives.

This morning we are going to look at several cautions we learn from Rachel’s story. There are good ways and bad ways of dealing with pain. The good ways help us move through the pain and forward into God’s plan for our lives. The bad ways often end up only increasing our pain and the pain of those around us. So, let’s look at Rachel’s story together and the cautions her story presents.

I. Be careful not to blame each other (Genesis 30:1-2)

The first caution is this. When you experience the pain of infertility in your marriage, you need to be careful not to blame each other. Look at Genesis 30:1-2:

When Rachel saw that she was not bearing Jacob any children, she became jealous of her sister. So she said to Jacob, “Give me children, or I’ll die!” 2 Jacob became angry with her and said, “Am I in the place of God, who has kept you from having children?” (Genesis 30:1-2)

Now there are a couple problems here. First of all, there is the problem of jealousy because of the problem of multiple wives. Rachel’s experience of infertility would have been bad enough, but when you couple it with her husband having another wife who had born Jacob children, and that only increased the pain for her.

But the second problem is the one we want to focus on today, and that is the interaction between Rachel and Jacob. Rachel plays the blame game with Jacob, and Jacob gets angry with Rachel.

   A. Anger and blame will only harm your relationship
      – Genesis 3:12; Psalm 37:8

When you are hurt, it’s easy to blame others, and it’s natural to get angry. But you need to realize that anger and blame will only harm your relationship. When Adam and Eve first sinned in the garden, what did they do? They played the blame game. Adam said to God in Genesis 3:12: “The woman you put here with me – she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” (Genesis 3:12)

What is Adam doing here? First, he blames God! “You put this woman here with me!” Then he blames Eve. “She gave me some fruit from the tree.” Eve goes on to blame the serpent, and Adam and Eve are no longer working together as a team to face their problem.

Anger and blame are natural responses when we are hurting, but they don’t help the situation. Psalm 37:8 says: “Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret – it leads only to evil.” (Psalm 37:8)

   B. Bring your deepest hurts and desires to God
      – Psalm 62:8; Proverbs 30:15-16

Anger and blame will only harm your relationship. Instead, bring your deepest hurts and desires to God. Psalm 62:8 says: “Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him.” (Psalm 62:8) God is there to help you. He is there to comfort you, to strengthen you, and you can pour out your hearts and your hurts to him.

Remember Proverbs 30:15-16? “There are three things that are never satisfied, four that never say, ‘Enough!’: the grave, the barren womb, land, which is never satisfied with water, and fire, which never says, ‘Enough!’” (Proverbs 30:15-16) The pain of infertility is a continuing pain that never really goes away, and so we need to be continually bringing that pain to God who loves you, who knows your pain and can help you in your pain.

So, that’s our first caution. When you experience he pain of infertility in your marriage, be careful not to blame each other.

II. Be careful with your options (Genesis 30:3-13)

Secondly, be careful with your options. As we’ll see, Rachel and Leah both got creative with their husband, Jacob, in trying to bear children, but they probably did not choose the best options. Look at Genesis 30:3-13:

3 Then Rachel said [to Jacob], “Here is Bilhah, my maidservant. Sleep with her so that she can bear children for me and that through her I too can build a family.”

4 So she gave him her servant Bilhah as a wife. Jacob slept with her, 5 and she became pregnant and bore him a son. 6 Then Rachel said, “God has vindicated me; he has listened to my plea and given me a son.” Because of this she named him Dan.

7 Rachel’s servant Bilhah conceived again and bore Jacob a second son. 8 Then Rachel said, “I have had a great struggle with my sister, and I have won.” So she named him Naphtali.

9 When Leah saw that she had stopped having children, she took her maidservant Zilpah and gave her to Jacob as a wife. 10 Leah’s servant Zilpah bore Jacob a son. 11 Then Leah said, “What good fortune!” So she named him Gad.

12 Leah’s servant Zilpah bore Jacob a second son. 13 Then Leah said, “How happy I am! The women will call me happy.” So she named him Asher. (Genesis 30:3-13)

Rachel was barren and Leah had stopped bearing children, so they both resorted to an early form of surrogacy. They brought their maidservants to Jacob and had their maidservants bear children for them. Of course, this was completely unfair to their maidservants! They were both desperate to have children, and so they took desperate measures. And they probably did not make the best decision when it came to their options. We have a lot of options available to us in the twenty-first century, and we also need to be careful with our options.

   A. Be cautious with modern technologies (IVF, surrogacy, etc.)
      – Psalm 139:13-14

First of all, we need to be cautious with modern technologies, such as IVF and surrogacy. IVF stands for in vitro fertilization. The Latin phrase in vitro literally means “in glass.” In IVF the woman’s egg and the man’s sperm are combined in a lab rather than in the woman’s body. Once the egg is fertilized, then the resulting embryo is implanted in the mother’s womb to develop like any other baby. IVF is an amazing technology that has helped many couples conceive children who otherwise would not have been able to conceive.

So, you might wonder, what’s wrong with IVF? The problem is that IVF can create additional children who are then either frozen or destroyed. Most doctors performing IVF will want to create multiple embryos to increase the likelihood of a viable embryo. And so, we have the ethical problem of creating and discarding multiple children in order to bear one or two healthy children.

Some ethicists believe that IVF can be morally okay so long as no human embryos are destroyed in the process. But we still need to be cautious with a technology that is capable of destroying human life in the hopes of creating human life.

What about surrogacy? Surrogacy is when a mother is unable to carry her own child, and so the child is placed within another woman’s womb to carry the child for her. Once again, like IVF, surrogacy has been a blessing to many couples, and a blessing to many surrogate mothers who have sacrificially carried children for others.

So, what’s wrong with surrogacy? As with IVF, although surrogacy can be used wisely and ethically, there are still ethical issues involved. Surrogacy can take advantage of women in poor economic situations and put their health at risk. Problems have arisen when either the surrogate decides they no longer want to carry the child, or when parents decide they no longer want the child the surrogate is carrying. Or when both parties involved desire to keep the child. Or when there is confusion for the child about who is the real mother.

We read in Psalm 139:13-14: “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” (Psalm 139:13-14)

The bottom line is that the moment a child is conceived in the womb – or in the lab – that child is a precious human being created in the image of God and must be treated with absolute dignity and care. We must reject any choices that would harm the child in any way.

These are complex situations with many ethical considerations, and so we need to be cautious when using these modern technologies that were not available to earlier generations. I’ve included links to some helpful articles and resources on IVF and surrogacy on the back of your sermon outline to help you think through these issues more carefully.

   B. Be open to fostering or adoption
      – Psalm 68:5-6; Ephesians 1:5; James 1:27

What about other options for those who are struggling to have children? I would encourage you to be open to fostering or adoption, as there are so many children out there who desperately need families. God honors adoption, and as Christians we are all adopted into his family.

We read in Psalm 68:5-6: “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families.” (Psalm 68:5-6) James 1:27 says: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:27) Ephesians 1:5 tell us: “God adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.” (Ephesians 1:5)

Many parents struggling with infertility have found through the process that God has a special plan for their family, and they are so grateful for the children God brings into their family through adoption.

III. Be careful not to compromise (Genesis 30:14-21)

We’ve looked at two cautions so far. 1) Be careful not to blame each other. 2) Be careful with your options. And now 3) Be careful not to compromise.

When we struggle with infertility in a marriage, we can also struggle with sex, and so we need to be careful not to compromise in this important area of our lives. This is another area where Rachel and Leah made some questionable choices. Look at Genesis 30:14-16:

14 During wheat harvest, Reuben went out into the fields and found some mandrake plants, which he brought to his mother Leah. Rachel said to Leah, “Please give me some of your son’s mandrakes.”

15 But she said to her, “Wasn’t it enough that you took away my husband? Will you take my son’s mandrakes too?” “Very well,” Rachel said, “he can sleep with you tonight in return for your son’s mandrakes.”

16 So when Jacob came in from the fields that evening, Leah went out to meet him. “You must sleep with me,” she said. “I have hired you with my son’s mandrakes.” So he slept with her that night. (Genesis 30:14-16)

   A. God takes the sexual relationship very seriously
      – 1 Thessalonians 4:3-6

Rachel and Leah treated sex with Jacob casually as a commodity to be traded away. But God takes the sexual relationship very seriously, and so should we.

We read in 1 Thessalonians 4:3-6: “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him. The Lord will punish men for all such sins.” (1 Thessalonians 4:3-6)

There are three main instructions in these verses for us: 1) We should avoid sexual immorality; 2) We should control our bodies in a way that is holy and honorable; and 3) We should not use sex to wrong another person or take advantage of them in any way.

The sexual relationship between husband and wife is a beautiful and sacred gift from God. God takes the sexual relationship seriously and so should we.

   B. Know there can be long-term consequences to your actions
      – Galatians 6:7-8

Whenever you are tempted to compromise, know that there can be long-term consequences for your actions. Look at Genesis 30:17-21:

17 God listened to Leah, and she became pregnant and bore Jacob a fifth son. 18 Then Leah said, “God has rewarded me for giving my maidservant to my husband.” So she named him Issachar.

19 Leah conceived again and bore Jacob a sixth son. 20 Then Leah said, “God has presented me with a precious gift. This time my husband will treat me with honor, because I have borne him six sons.” So she named him Zebulun. 21 Some time later she gave birth to a daughter and named her Dinah. (Genesis 30:17-21)

Whenever you are tempted to compromise, remember that there can be long-term consequences for your actions. When you confess your sin to God, God will forgive you through Christ, but there will still be consequences. For Rachel it was watching Leah start bearing children again which caused Rachel additional pain in her life as she continued to be barren. For you it could be a breach of trust with your spouse which could take years to heal and restore.

Galatians 6:7-8 says: “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Galatians 6:7-8) That’s our third caution this morning. Be careful not to compromise.

IV. Trust God’s timing and plan (Genesis 30:22-24, 35:16-20)

1) Be careful not to blame each other. 2) Be careful with your options. 3) Be careful not to compromise. And then, finally, 4) Trust God’s timing and plan. Look at Genesis 30:22-24:

22 Then God remembered Rachel; he listened to her and opened her womb. 23 She became pregnant and gave birth to a son and said, “God has taken away my disgrace.” 24 She named him Joseph, and said, “May the Lord add to me another son.” (Genesis 30:22-24)

God eventually opened Rachel’s womb, and she gave birth to Joseph. Joseph was a precious answer to prayer for Rachel and a vital part of God’s plan for his people.

   A. Trust God to provide for your family in his way and in his time
      – Philippians 4:19

You need to trust God to provide for your family in his way and in his time. Here is some helpful information from one of the articles I’ve linked for you on the back of your outline.

So what is an infertile Christian couple to do? It is good to seek advice from gynecologists and other fertility specialists. Both men and women should live a healthy lifestyle to prepare for pregnancy. The mothers of the Israelite nation prayed fervently for conception, so continuing to pray for a child is certainly not out of line. Primarily, though, we are to pray for God’s will for our lives. If His will is for us to have a natural child, we will. If His will is that we adopt, foster-parent, or go childless, then that is what we should accept and commit to gladly doing. We know that God has a divine plan for each of His loved ones. God is the author of life. He allows conception and withholds conception. God is sovereign and possesses all wisdom and knowledge (see Romans 11:33-36). “Every good and perfect gift is from above…” (James 1:17). Knowing and accepting these truths will go a long way to filling the ache in the hearts of an infertile couple. (https://www.gotquestions.org/infertility.html)

We read in Philippians 4:19: “And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19) God has promised to meet all your needs, and you can trust him to fulfill that promise. He may not fulfill it in the way you hoped or expected, but God is good, God is kind, and you can trust him to provide for your family in his way and in his time.

   B. Every child is a precious gift from God
      – Matthew 18:10

And then, finally, remember that every child is a precious gift from God. We read the end of Rachel’s story in Genesis 35:16-20:

16 Then they moved on from Bethel. While they were still some distance from Ephrath, Rachel began to give birth and had great difficulty. 17 And as she was having great difficulty in childbirth, the midwife said to her, “Don’t be afraid, for you have another son.”

18 As she breathed her last – for she was dying – she named her son Ben-Oni. But his father named him Benjamin. 19 So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem). 20 Over her tomb Jacob set up a pillar, and to this day that pillar marks Rachel’s tomb. (Genesis 35:16-20)

We need to trust God’s plan even when things don’t work out. Rachel died giving birth to her next son and tried to name him, Ben-Oni, meaning “son of my misery.” Can you imagine going through life with the name Ben-Oni, “son of my misery? Now as Benjamin grew older, he would learn that his mother died in childbirth, but can you imagine being reminded of that every time someone spoke to you or addressed you by name?

Thankfully, Jacob intervened and changed his name to Benjamin, meaning “son of my right hand.” Jacob was saying, “Son, I don’t blame you for what happened. I will not let you carry this name of sorrow throughout your life. I honor you and bless you, Benjamin, son of my right hand.”

Every child is a precious gift of God, no matter what the circumstances of their birth. There shouldn’t be any “Ben-Oni’s” among us. Children born of unfortunate circumstances or born with physical challenges or disabilities are all precious gifts from God. Jesus said in Matthew 18:10: “See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 18:10)

CONCLUSION: Rachel was a desperate mother. She was barren, and she desperately wanted to have children. The desire to have children is good, and the pain of infertility is deep and real. I pray that as a result of this sermon all of us here today will have a better understanding of the pain of infertility. I pray that we will seek to be sensitive to those who would like to bear children but can’t. And for those of you struggling with the pain of infertility this morning, I pray that you will learn to look to God in your pain and trust his timing and plan in your life.

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Helpful Resources on Infertility

Articles about infertility:

9 Things You Should Know about Infertility
https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/9-things-you-should-know-about-infertility/

How Should Christians Deal with Infertility?
https://www.gotquestions.org/infertility.html

Ethical Issues of Pregnancy and Infertility
https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/course/ethical-issues-pregnancy-infertility/

Your Options in Infertility
https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/your-options-in-infertility/

Articles about IVF:

Breaking Evangelicalism’s Silence on IVF
https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/evangelicalisms-silence-ivf/

How IVF Can Be Morally Right
https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/ivf-morally-right/

Articles about surrogacy:

What Christians Should Know about Surrogacy
https://erlc.com/resource-library/articles/basic-bioethics-what-christians-should-know-about-surrogacy

Perspectives on Surrogate Motherhood
https://www.focusonthefamily.com/family-q-and-a/parenting/perspectives-on-surrogate-motherhood

What does the Bible say about being or using a surrogate mother?
https://www.gotquestions.org/surrogate-mother.html

© Ray Fowler

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