Can we follow a God that allows bad things to happen to those he loves? Jacob was a man that God loved dearly. In one of the more peculiar stories of the bible, God gets into a wrestling match with Jacob and does not pin him down. Jacob demands a blessing from God and God grants it. God and Jacob had a unique and intimate relationship. God also blessed Jacob with wealth and material possessions, but the greatest blessing that Jacob received was his wife Rachel. Jacob’s love for Rachel was so great that he gladly worked 14 years of hard labor just so that he had the chance to be with her. But as sure as the Lord gave, he also took away.
In Genesis chapter 35, we read that Rachel died when she gave birth to her second son, Benjamin. As she was giving birth, she realized that she was dying and named her son “Ben-oni” which means “son of my sorrow”. Jacob refused to keep that name and renamed him Benjamin, which means “son of my right hand”. What strikes me is how “matter of fact” the reference is to Rachel dying. It’s not that the bible is glossing over the fact that her death was a tragedy. That she named her son “son of my sorrow” speaks to the fact that she obviously was very sad that she would not live to see her son grow up. And Jacob changing his name to Benjamin is probably because he didn’t want to be reminded of the sorrow of losing his beloved wife to childbirth. And yet, there is no mention of a faith crisis. We don’t read about Jacob wandering about aimlessly for years. We don’t see a family breaking apart because they can no longer see God’s goodness in the midst of losing a loved one. God doesn’t apologize for Rachel’s death. God doesn’t even appear to say anything at all about their loss. “So Rachel died, and she was buried…”
And what’s even more striking is the timing of this tragedy. Only a short time prior to Rachel going into labor did Jacob have this incredible encounter with the living God. We read earlier in chapter 35 that God appeared to Jacob and blessed him. And God reiterated to Jacob the promise that he made to Jacob’s fathers; that he would be fruitful and multiply and that he would become a company of nations and kings. It is on that high note that Jacob and his family journeyed out only to have the unimaginable happen. Just as he’s rejoicing in the promise of God’s fruitfulness and seeing it being realized before his own eyes as his wife begins labor, things take a turn for the worse. And God is silent.
It is at this point that many would make the case that God failed him. Was this God’s idea of blessing and fruitfulness? If God would allow that much pain and suffering then is he really worth following? And yet, despite the tremendous heartbreak and misery that Jacob experienced, after burying his wife, he journeyed on. In changing his son’s name he refused to remain in sorrow. We know that Jacob’s journey would bring even more tragedy as he would lose his son Joseph for many years when his brothers sold him into slavery. But in the midst of heart wrenching loss, he remained faithful to his God until his dying breath. I certainly don’t hope to be tested in the way that Jacob was. But I am encouraged to know that I follow the same God that was enough for Jacob in the worst of times and that I can trust that he will be enough for me also.