[ This blog posting began as a comment, which was in danger of hijacking the thread it was posted into. I do hope someday to revise this, but many will probably already find it interesting as it stands. This is posted shortly after revelations regarding the Duggar family - and a few other stories in the news and op eds which, I believe, make this material in Genesis of particularly timely value for reflection. The subject matter is darkly ironic, and rather frankly insulting. I would encourage anyone commenting on this material to pray first; as ugly as some themes initially appear, it is of paramount importance that we remain respectful to the self-revelation of He who is revealed in Scripture, in the bountifully and wonderfully odd ways He is sometimes revealed. ]
Jacob's life is profoundly marked by "struggle-of-two" stories - the struggles which took place with his own brother, and of course the struggle which took place at the area which Jacob later called "Pniel." And there is yet another.
While Jacob is sent away to his uncle Laban's, there is another "struggle-of-two" story - his two wives who contend over his body for their own fertility. A culminating moment is when Leah goes out in the field to meet him after his day's work and insults him doubly - or actually even triply - 1) revealing that his eldest son has been harvesting aphrodisiacs (mandrakes) - some sort of darkly strange womany seduction/fertility tool - 2) and also that his husbandly services have been purchased as if he were a gigolo. (This oldest son, Ruben, will later have relations with Bilhah, his father's concubine). 3) The third, implied insult is that his wife Rachel is pimping him out, and controlling one of the most vitally important domestic matters (the means of having offspring) by selling him to acquire his own son's aphrodesiacs. Jacob himself is bandied about, bought and sold, as if he were a mere mandrake - an ingredient of the fertility process - in a family situation which borders on the incestuous, if not worse - with Jacob's own son in some way involved in this sex-trade-for-sex-paraphernalia. It is indeed like a kind of "libidinal economy," in a very literalistic sense, with the circularity implicit in the notion of oikonomia and economy - meaning simultaneously economic exchange, and household order.
This would, I believe, have been read by the very first readers of the book of Genesis as a household in grave disorder - a household where women agonistically control a husband who may not even determine for himself where he spends the night, or where his seed might fertilize.
We read later of further disorder in his chosen and favored spouse, Rachel, stealing her father's hearth idols (probably primarily fertility fetishes), and then secreting them away under herself, protected by imagined issue of blood from her overflow / excess / unused fertility - for the Jews, a very dark, secretive thing to be burned even.
Jacob's wives are centered upon what Abraham has been promised - offspring - but then in a manner so distant from God's intention. The text is curiously silent about this situation which for the first readers of Genesis must have seemed simultaneously immoral and yet circus-like. There is shame, there is humor, there is irony - and it is all left along the sidelines as the narrative progresses silently, yet relentlessly further.
God is sovereign. And His promise to Abram is accomplished even through Bilhah, Zilpah, and this darkly comedic and disordered domestic situation.
Jacob's story is one of quiet comedy, and profound blessing despite the chaos, disorder, and sin surrounding him. Look also at his wacky pre-genetic-age experiment with the goats. Yet God blesses Jacob, despite his trying to MacGyver God's promises into being.
Look at us now - the way our households are so focused on children and child upbringing, that we consume all resources around us and leave such a great swathe of the American nation in poverty or in prison, with "education" nonetheless becoming a strange dumbed-down area where again we are competing over a vision having to do with sexuality and gender. It is a domestic situation resulting in profound injustice for both the men and the women, and of course - also the children.
But God is sovereign, and He delivers on His promises - even though we must sometimes wait (which implies: having patience). Jacob had to wait many, many years. His wives did not want to wait. And at times, Jacob did not want to wait either.
My prayer here is that we will learn patience, that we will deal justly, and that God will return a proper focus upon our domestic situations, despite the wacky things Christians in particular seem to have done with "family values" teachings and practices.
This makes me also think of the terrible confusion surrounding the miracles which Christ performed - the wonderful gifts, and promise which could be seen within - but then a strange outside-ness, a sense of appearance and spectacle - Christ's words, "do not go and tell the village" - the people becoming confused, wanting what they should not want, very few (if any!) seeing Christ for who He is. But Christ continues anyway - despite the chaos, the unfaithfulness of the people, the misinterpretations, and the appropriations (the taking of His signs for their own purposes). He modifies his ways of dealing with the people, it seems (no longer even bothering to ask them not to go tell the village) - but he continues to engage in His ministry of love nonetheless. He does not try to bring more attention to himself through little gimmicks that "those folks will just love!!!" - the times that He speaks of the "agora" - (equivalent of our commercial setting, including media) - at least on one occasion, not very positive!!! For He could have most certainly peppered His words with little stories and memes floating around the agora at the time (and now, I am falling into repetition myself).
The seeds, the harvest, the offspring ... it is so chaotic. It is beset with so much sin. The dissemination, the promised people ... it is not a "tidy" thing. But the promise is brought about nonetheless, without clever little tricks, and regardless of the connivances of those who have pledged troth to Him.
Fast-forward a bit more than a thousand years after the coming of Christ, into the middle ages. Richard of St. Victor uses the figure of Rachel for describing human reason, and (and very interestingly for the modern perspective - the "glue" of consciousness, or the imagination). Reason is Rachel in her tent. And the imagination is Bilhah, her maidservant - who comes in and out of the tent, bringing Rachel what she needs. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/gardner/cell/files/cell.html#Heading3
A tent is already a dark place, shielding the inside from the sun and light around. It could be that Richard of St. Victor sees consicousness as a a womb, with the strong associations Rachel has with the womb. But to add to this, the primary womb - Rachel - needs to make use of the services of another woman who is primarily associated with her womb - Bilhah, as being a surrogate mother is her most important function in this narrative.
The "seeds" of chaos, disruption, and unfaithfulness (with Bilhah, a perceived necessary unfaithfulness) are here in this description of consciousness and the imagination.
This is also the case when it comes to what is inside the tent, other than Rachel. We have little knowledge of the contents of the tent, other than the idols (or "images") which were probably fertility gods, which she had stolen from her father.
Rachel is the sister of Leah - who for St. Victor is the affections - whose maidservant is Zilpah, "ever drunken and thirsty" - who is sensuality. Bilhah, or the imagination, is "a great jangler."
"By Jacob is understanden God" - "so man's soul through light of knowing in the
reason, and sweetness of love in the affection, is spoused unto God." And such a complicated and unfaithful spousal relation that is.
[ note for further updates - this is rather "dark thinking." What should be added is how this picture of human fallenness is perhaps incomplete. What we know of human reason is like Rachel and Bilhah - though Rachel was never compelled into unfaithfulness, and Bilhah would have avoided her most famous unfaithfulness if it hadn't been for Ruben's promptings - Ruben being this first son of sensuality (Leah), and the procurer of mandrakes.