We encounter three deaths in Jacob’s family. His favorite wife, his mother’s nurse and his father. But we also welcome one last child into this same family.
In yesterday’s reading the death of “Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse” (verse 8a) was mentioned. I’m not sure how she got in this story. Was she traveling with Jacob and his band? Was this an earlier death that is just now mentioned? Were Rebekah and her nurse visiting this same area? I’m leaning more towards the first proposed answer as this appears to be a fresh event. Is it possible that she joined them at Shechem because she was the one who cared for Jacob during his youth? He certainly cared for her as he named her resting place “oak of weeping.”
The second death mentioned in Jacob’s camp hits him the hardest, I believe. The bride he served fourteen years for. The one his soul longed for. Her child was his favorite of all his children. Now she dies giving birth to one last son for him. She longed to give him children. I imagine she was overjoyed to find herself pregnant a second time. All his other wives had stopped bearing children. I don’t know if this was because he stopped “visiting” them once Rachel finally bore Joseph for him or if they were just naturally done at that point. But Rachel was carrying his child again.
Something went wrong with this child’s birth. We aren’t told exactly what it was but it took her life. With her dying breath she named her son “Benoni” which means “son of my sorrow.” My bible helps also add the meaning “son of my strength” to this name. I like the second one better; this baby’s life was born of her final strength. But Jacob didn’t want that to be his son’s legacy. He changed the name to Benjamin which means “son of the right hand.” That name is more fitting for a favored son as it designates authority.
Some fathers actually blame the child when the mother’s death results from the birth. Not Jacob. He loved Benjamin with all his heart. He and Joseph were all Jacob had left of Rachel. They would be treasured for life.
The third death mentioned in today’s reading is Jacob’s father, Isaac. Jacob came to visit his father before his death. We aren’t told if Rebekah is still living at this time but Isaac was living in the same area where Abraham had lived, Hebron. Isaac was 180 years old when he died. He lived long enough to see his son return to him. I don’t doubt that Jacob brought all of his children to present before him. Isaac was blind but that shouldn’t have stopped Jacob from introducing his children to their grandfather.
Jacob and Esau’s last recorded act together was burying their father. We are not told here that they buried him with Abraham and Sarah but we find out later that this is where they laid him. Jacob himself asked to be buried with his father and grandfather MUCH later in his story.
I’m curious why Rachel wasn’t buried in the cave with Abraham and Sarah. She was the favored wife yet she is buried on the way to Bethlehem. Is it because it was too long of a journey to take a body? It looks like a short distance on a map but geography and travel time probably made such a task impossible. I’m sure it pained him to leave her behind but at least he could still carry her memories and her two sons with him.
One last event that is mentioned in today’s reading set Jacob’s teeth on edge. His son Reuben slept with one of his ‘wives’. She was Rachel’s servant who bore children in her name. This was a BIG mistake that caused Ruben, Jacob’s first born, to lose his father’s trust and his inheritance. There was no going back from this act and it would impact their relationship for the rest of Jacob’s life.
What possessed Ruben to do such a detestable act? Surely he knew better. Now Jacob had three sons who had seriously disappointed him; Simeon, Levi, and Reuben. These are the first three sons of Leah. The sons she was counting on to make her husband lover her. They brought grief to their father instead. And we will see later that he never forgot these offenses.
Father God, thank You that You are a God of the living and not the dead. These people’s stories didn’t end at the grave. Neither will mine. There is more to come and it is greater than what I know now. Did Jacob know that truth when he buried these three individuals? Did this give him comfort in his grief? Benjamin brought him comfort after Rachel’s death. But I’m betting he also brought with him a little pain too. I’m glad Jacob changed his name. That’s not a name I would want any child to bear. Jacob showed his son compassion, even in his grief.
I’ve never had someone really close to me die. The closest death was my father-in-law. He was a gruff man but also very loving. I didn’t have a long relationship with him but I was with him daily near the end. I miss his company but my grief was not profound. Does this mean that my love wasn’t deep or that I don’t grieve like others do? I honestly don’t want to know the answer to that by experience God. I’m MORE than happy to have ALL my family continue with me for YEARS to come! But when they do pass from this life to the next, I know I will at least be comforted by the fact that they are with You. My mother, father, mother-in-law and husband are ALL Your children. I can’t speak for every member of my family but many of them are in Your family too. I pray for the rest who are still holding out. I DO NOT want to see them die before making that important commitment. That would be TRUE grief! Once again, “get’m God!” Do whatever it takes to bring them to the truth.