I attended Sunday school regularly while growing up, went to private school for 11 years, and was heavily involved in youth group activities. I know many a Bible story. I’ve read them multiple times, studied them, dissected them, tested over them, memorized them, even watched them portrayed by friendly vegetables, but it wasn’t until after getting married and having kids of my own that I actually started to feel and empathize with the stories of the Bible. What felt like fairy tales or fiction for years suddenly became real, with real characters and real raw emotions. I don’t actually know what changed in me. Maybe it’s because I’m about to turn 30 and, scientifically, that makes me a real adult now. Or maybe it’s the kids and husband, and now every decision I make is no longer about self preservation and happiness, but selfless love and sacrifices. Maybe God just got tired of me skimming the subject matter and said, “Here, try reading with your eyes and heart open for once.” All I know is that I’ve heard the story in Genesis 35:17–18 — Rachel and the birth of Benjamin — countless times, and it never really registered before now. Before, it was just a timeline story on how Benjamin became the 12th tribe. (I hope that’s correct, I promise I went to a Christian school, but don’t forget I also mentioned I’m 30 and a mom, so there’s that)
Reexamining the story this past Sunday brought on a new wave of emotions. The story was no longer “that time Benjamin was born,” but the story of a tormented mother who wanted more than anything in the world to have another precious baby boy. How happy she must have been knowing that her baby was coming. What joy to hear his first cries, and then what insurmountable pain she must have felt to slowly realize that her time was coming to an end, she was dying, and all those visualizations of raising her son were disappearing. In agony with her last moments she named him Ben-oni, “son of my sorrow”.
Now I don’t like to judge people’s name choices but Rachel, dear, that’s a bit harsh. Reading the story from the outside, it’s easy to think, “It’s a bit cruel to give your child an identity of sorrow, what sort of destiny would that allow for him?”
Now that we are all judging Rachel, let’s take a quick step back. How often do the circumstances we find ourselves in become our identities? We are having a bad day, so we become a gruff, short-tempered coworker who can’t catch a break. We lose our job, then we become a hopeless, depressed and vacant family member who can’t get ahead. We are perhaps riddled with addiction, adultery, alcoholism, pornography and we think to ourselves, “That’s just the way the cards were dealt, to live lives of sorrow because that’s the circumstances that surround us.” Rachel’s 10-second decision is a decision some of us make every day.
Jumping back into the story, we find the love of Jacob’s life, Rachel, has died shortly after childbirth. Jacob’s dreams of a long life with mother and child are over. He holds his newborn son in his arms. Like Rachel, he too has suffered great loss in these moments, but he looks into the eyes of that healthy newborn son, and I can only imagine life stops for a second. He’s completely consumed with the precious gift of life he holds in his arms. Though this sweet child is surrounded by sorrowful circumstances, this child is a blessing from God. Jacob recognizes this, looks down at his new child and calls him Benjamin, “son of blessing.” And like a wave, the circumstances shift.
Like Jacob and Rachel, many of us are surrounded by sorrowful, tough, lonely and desperate circumstances, but we must remember that, just like Jacob, we also hold in our arms, the gift of life. A blessing that goes beyond what the broken world can take from us. Like Jacob you have the power to rename your circumstances and live the blessed life you have been given. Through your toughest days, you’re surrounded by the love of Christ and his promises of hope. You have life and you have an endless future. Be a son of blessing.