“As she breathed her last--for she was dying--she named her son Ben-oni…”-Genesis 35:18a
In the above verse, we find Rachel, the wife of Jacob dying while giving birth to her second son. I imagine she’s sweating immensely, possibly covered in blood and outright exhausted from the excruciating pain of child bearing yet barely able to speak she uses her last words to name her son, Ben-oni, child of my sorrow.
What contrasting emotions Jacob must have felt that day! Was he by Rachel’s side? Was he holding her hand and encouraging her to hang in there as he watched with agony her departure and his son’s arrival?
Or was he outside pacing back and forth? Was he listening to the coaching of the midwife amidst Rachel’s screams; only to later hear deafening silence reigning over a baby’s cry?
I don’t know what Jacob’s position was during the birthing process or where his mind was but I’m sure that it aroused great distress. The scriptures were never shy about revealing Jacobs’ immense love for Rachel. He had worked seven years for her only to be tricked into marrying her older sister, Leah. Without hesitation, he had agreed to work another seven years to ensure his marriage to his true love, Rachel. Many will wait for the one they love but almost few will wait and work 14 years. I’m sure this made her dying all the more difficult for Jacob.
Despite this story full of suffering Jacob does something that gives us insight on his perception.
“…but his father called him Benjamin”.- Genesis 35:18b
Though loved by his father, Benjamin’s very existence would always be a reminder of Rachel’s death. The name Ben-oni (Son of my sorrow) seemed rightfully fitting yet Jacob called him Benjamin (Son of my right hand). In other words, he called him son of who is high ranking and of honor.
The workings of suffering continuously prove to be both divine and mysterious.
In the midst of so much pain and suffering Jacob displays his perspective by renaming the very source of his suffering. I can imagine the midwife saying with blood on her garments and tears in her eyes, “his name is sorrow” but Jacob possibly numb, managing to say, “I will call him my right hand”.
Augustine once said, “God had one son on earth without sin but never one without suffering”.
Suffering is inevitable. To some degree and at some point during life, we all suffer. While none of us would ever pray for suffering, it is often the means by which strength and wisdom are birthed. Suffering is often the reminder that we are indeed limited.
Regardless of the sufferings we face, may we be challenged to seek God for the divine truth that exists amidst the pain.
May we see with His eyes and may what appears to be sorrow become the very thing we call honor.
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