04 Oct Stealing, Scheming, Striving
While student teaching last spring in a fourth-grade classroom, I got a front row seat to a lot of girl drama. After a while, I noticed that one particular girl was always in the middle of it.
The comical thing was she was never directly linked to the original dispute between her two classmates yet somehow always managed to insert herself into the narrative. She would try to be a mediator between her friends without realizing she was taking matters into her own hands and actually stirring up more conflict. She would heighten her classmates’ frustration with each other by amplifying what they did wrong and inserting her opinions on what fair resolution should be reached. Even though the issue was often small and could have been resolved before it reached me, without fail, she was always the first student to come tell me what was going on between others in exaggerated detail. She saw herself as a dutiful peacemaker without understanding that beneath her actions was a need to feel in control, in the know, and needed by her teachers and peers.
“They are focused on what they are leaving behind instead of what is laid out ahead of them in God’s promises.”
In the story of Jacob, we see a similar need for control and desire for justice reveal itself in Rachel. After witnessing a long, complicated drama unfold between her father and husband, God tells Jacob that it is time to flee from Laban’s oppression and be delivered to the land of his ancestors (Genesis 31:3). Rachel and Leah are relieved that the time to leave their scheming father has finally come, saying to Jacob, “That’s fine with us! We won’t inherit any of our father’s wealth anyway! He has reduced our rights to those of foreign women (Genesis 31:14-15).” Even as God is bringing his blessing to fruition in their lives, they are lacking faith and respond with bitterness because they believe they are giving up an owed inheritance. They are focused on what they are leaving behind instead of what is laid out ahead of them in God’s promises. Because of this dissatisfied mindset, Rachel decides to take matters in her own hands and get what she believes is rightfully hers. She steals her father’s household idols without telling Jacob. This action culturally signified a claiming of family inheritance. One thing is clear—she is determining justice for her and her family on her own terms.
Her theft does not go unnoticed and a chase ensues. Her decision to take control turns a bad situation worse for her and her family. When Laban and his men catch up to them, Jacob, so convinced that idols are not among them, invites Laban to search all of their tents. Rachel in a final act of desperation hides the idols from Laban’s view by sitting on them. Her actions make me wonder about what idols I am “sitting upon” or hiding in my own life. What would I cling to that desperately if someone threatened to take it away from me? What would I not want my friends and family to know had that much control over me?
“What would I cling to that desperately if someone threatened to take it away from me? What would I not want my friends and family to know had that much control over me?”
It’s easy to laugh at the dramatic hysterics of my fourth-grade friend or shake your head at Rachel’s extreme actions, but I tend to ignore the same tendencies manifesting in my own heart. Rachel’s desire for her inheritance and her family’s prosperity was not innately wrong, but she allows what she craves to overcome her. Often what we desire isn’t sinful, such as a promotion at work or the furthering of a relationship, but our motivations and methods of acquiring such things become easily corrupted. We tend to get caught up in the desire for justice and control yet overlook the path of manipulation and destruction we set into motion to get what we believe is rightfully ours. Our own idols lead us to a place of stealing, scheming, and striving just like Rachel’s did. I am praying for a heart that rejoices and rests in God’s promises and the perfection of his plan instead. I want to have a response more like Jacob’s, who at the end of this passage gives credit to God’s faithfulness instead of his own strength, stating boldly to Laban, “In fact, if the God of my father had not been on my side—the God of Abraham and the fearsome God of Isaac—you would have sent me away empty-handed. But God has seen your abuse and my hard work.” (Genesis 31:42)
— Elise Denney, Greer Campus