Then they journeyed from Bethel; and when they were still some distance from Ephrath, Rachel was in childbirth, and she had a difficult labour. When she was in her difficult labour, the midwife said to her, ‘Do not be afraid; for now you
will have another son.’ As her soul was departing (for she died), she named him Ben-oni;* but his father called him Benjamin.* So Rachel died, and she was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem), and Jacob set up a pillar at her grave; it is the pillar of Rachel’s tomb, which is there to this day. Israel journeyed on, and pitched his tent beyond the tower of Eder.
How people respond to tragedy and pain can often affect the rest of their lives. It is possible that in a moment a destiny will be changed, in a moment the direction of a life will be altered. I have seen this as a minister and chaplain, and it is a truth writ large in today’s Scripture text. Here we see Jacob journeying onward from heartbreak to a new name and a new future.
Jacob’s love for Rachel is one of the great love stories. He loved her at first sight. He worked seven years for her father in order to marry her, but
got cheated by her father, and had to work another seven years. Now, in today’s text, Jacob is bringing his wife home to his family.
But when Jacob and Rachel were some distance from Ephrath the pains of childbirth overwhelmed her. She labored long into the night
pushing against her makeshift bed. Screams could be heard through the camp until Rachel grew suddenly quiet. Then as colored drained from her
face she struggled to speak her last words: “This child shall be called Ben-oni, for he is ‘son of my sorrow’”. The midwives nodded in understanding
as the servants began to weep.
Jacob flew into the tent to take little Ben-oni from Rachel’s limp arms and cradle him close. He looked at his son and tears welled up in his eyes
and ran into his beard. Then summoning just enough composure to speak, Jacob declared that his son was to be called Ben-jamin, “son of my right
hand”. As his culture associated the right hand with honor and strength, so Jacob was making known, that his son born in sorrow would be the son of his honor, the son of his strength. Jacob was learning faith’s lesson of rewriting tragedy into hope.
Jacob mourned the death of the love of his life and set up a pillar at Rachel’s grave. Then strangely the text says that “Israel journeyed on”. Note that it does not say that Jacob journeyed on, but rather Israel journeyed on. He is now a new man going forward. Just as Jacob had given Ben-oni a new name, so God gives him a new name to mark a new direction in his life. The man who had been aptly named Jacob, meaning “swindler”, will for all generations be called Israel, or “Prince of God”.
The Bible is about God giving people new names, and rewriting stories of tragedy; turning saints into sinners, losers into winners, and transforming sorrow into grace.
I like to imagine that Benjamin’s birthday was observed each year with a visit to Rachel’s grave. Yet Jacob and Benjamin would not let their stories be defined by their sorrow, but by the power of God. Their sorrow was great, but God’s grace even greater.
Look at your own life, your sorrows, your tragedies and pain. Look at them through God’s eyes. Look at them through the eyes of faith in His promise. Look at them through God’s purpose to always bless His people.
Perhaps your life has been marked by more than your fair share of trouble and sorrow. Perhaps life has not turned out as you had hoped. But look to your tomorrow and know that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, has not changed. He still makes sons of sorrow into sons of honor and grace.
The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
the LORD lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.
Grace and peace–Tim
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PS: The next eVotional will be available Tuesday, November 1, 2011.