Gripped by Grace: Over My Heart of Envy (Gen. 30:1-24)
I grew up for six years of my life in a run-down, cockroach- infested apartment in Bronx, NY. We had literally six locks on our door. Living right in front of a high school, I would hear the police car or ambulance almost every night. A couple of times people have tried to break into our car and we ended up paying to put it in a garage. My dad was also mugged a couple of times.
One day I got sick. It was the flu or something. My mom suddenly took me into the kitchen and took out a broom. She told me to stand up straight. With the broom she tried to “sweep” away the sickness, though I think the dust just made me sicker! When I asked her what she was doing, she said, “I think someone cast the evil eye upon us and we need to sweep it away. They are jealous of us.” This was before we knew Jesus, but looking back, I am still wondering what exactly were people envious of? We had fewer cockroaches then they did? They had seven locks to our six? They were mugged three times to our two?
This wasn’t the first time I heard about this “evil eye.” When I was little, my parents would take a small black eyeliner pencil or something like it to put a black dot on my forehead and cheek. Why? To ward off the evil eye from my beautiful countenance. That makes sense. Actually do you know one of the reasons why some Indian parents never encourage or praise anyone or anything is because they never want to “jinx” the good that was happening and cast an “evil eye” that way.
So never praise anybody unduly or either his head will get swollen or the evil eye would have its effect, be it beauty or excellence in school or the harvest. If any of the vegetables in our vegetable garden started to go bad, it was because “someone cast the evil eye.” If I said if it was actually a worm, they would say, “But who brought the worm? The evil eye.” Wow, so people’s “evil eye” is so powerful that it can not only emit negative energy, it can summon worms from the ground and even dry up cows’ milks and cause childlessness and make people sick. And I always wished I could have caught those people who were casting this evil eye in the act of it. Did that person’s eye turn red when he was envying? Was there a way to know who they were? But it always after the fact and we were always seemed to be the victims and never perpetrators.
This whole concept is simply superstition, but the Bible tells us that all of us have an evil eye. In the Bible, what we look at is indicative of what is going on in your heart. Our head will always move toward what our hearts desire. Jesus said, “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness” (Matt. 6:22-23). In this context, Jesus is saying greed is slavery and our eyes looking at money as our treasure indicates how blind we are and how it can affect every other part of us. There is a controlling power to what we give our hearts to.
Today I want to talk about something that is not usually preached about or talked about or confessed. It is envy. It is a sin like it’s cousin greed, which Jesus actually warns us about. This is because it is a sin that no one thinks they have, because they are blind to it. We can see it in others, but not often in us. Jerry Bridges calls it a “respectable sin.” The Catholic Church calls it one the seven deadly sins. Shakespeare in Othello likens it to a “green eyed monster.” Yet, in every list of sins in the New Testament, you can almost always find envy there (Rom. 1:29-32, Gal. 5:19-22, 1 Pet. 2:1).
But now because of the influence of social media, envy has seemed to grip us all the time. We have become more competitive, less grateful, more complaining and easily depressed and despairing, all because we are envious. Think about it: We compete to have the most Twitter followers, the most LinkedIn connections, the coolest status updates, the most interesting Facebook friends, the cutest pictures, or the funniest videos. As a result, studies have shown people fall into the “compare and despair” syndrome quite often and faster nowadays.
“When my self-esteem is shaky, which it often is, I have to be careful around social media,” shared Jennifer Garam, writer, blogger and teacher in Brooklyn. “On Facebook and Twitter, everything is always wonderful for everyone and all their lives are amazing. I feel like an insecure middle-schooler looking up to the tough high school girl with dark eyeliner and who does not care about anything, and like I could never be that cool,” she wrote. We are constantly “casting the evil eye,” upon others and what they have. In the end, we do not cast spells on people, but end up destroying our own lives and the relationships around us due to our envious self-destructive behavior.
Jacob has been a grabber all of his life, but now we see that in an effort to grab Rachel for himself, he is now building a family of grabbers. We are going to look today at two major women in competition against each other, driven by envy, causing destruction in the end, but yet God’s grace, as usual, intervenes and grips their heart with grace. From this twisted family dysfunction, God brings forth His people from whom the Messiah will come. We are going to look, with the Lord’s help, at this “green-eyed monster” called envy and then cast it upon the cross and talk about how the gospel transforms us. First then:
I. Envy poisons our lives (Gen. 30:1-16)
Envy is nothing new in Genesis. We know Adam and Eve had Paradise, but were promised by Satan to get something that was “missing” (Gen. 3:4-6). We saw Cain envying Abel, leading to his murder (Gen. 4:1-10). We see Sarah lashing out at Hagar when Hagar looked down at her barrenness (Gen. 16). We saw Jacob envying Esau enough to trick him and Esau envying Jacob, when Jacob got his father’s blessing (Gen. 27:41). Now it’s come to run his new family and it will cause all kinds of dysfunction. Remember that Moses is writing to the twelve tribes of Israel, the 12 brothers who come out of this mess. They too struggle with envy and needs God’s grace to grip them!
In our story, Leah, the unwanted and unloved sister, ends up giving birth to four sons for Jacob (Gen. 29:31-35). By the way, whenever we see polygamy in Genesis, remember that it is not what God wanted. God’s plan was always one woman and one man together, for a lifetime. The culture they were living in had other ideas and we see that each relationship in Genesis (and in the rest of the Bible for that matter) where a man has multiple wives, always ends up in chaos and disorder. All of this mess here in Genesis was not God wanted, but something God allows and redeems for His glory. I want to look at a few ways envy poisons our lives. Take note:
ENVY IS ROOTED IN MISPLACED IDENTITIES
There is an interesting change of events in Gen. 30:1. Rachel, the envied sister for her beauty is now the one envying.
By the way, what is envy? Simply put, as Thomas Aquinas says, “It is sorrow for another’s good.” Instead of rejoicing in someone’s good, you are unhappy that you don’t have it. It is being unhappy at other people’s happiness. And it is being happy when others become unhappy.
“Envy enters when, seeing someone else’s happiness or success, we feel ourselves called into question. Then, out of the hurt of our wounded self-esteem, we seek to bring the other person down to our level by word or deed. They belittle us by their success, we feel; we should bring them down to their deserved level, envy helps us feel. Full-blown envy, in short, is dejection [sadness] plus disparagement [criticism] plus destruction. Dorothy Sayers said, ‘Envy begins by asking plausibly: ‘Why should I not enjoy what others enjoy?’ and it ends by demanding: ‘Why should others enjoy what I may not?’”
ENVY AND JEALOUSY
It is closely related to jealousy. Jealousy is the desire to have what somebody else has. Jealousy can be good or bad. It can be wholesome, particularly when we desire to develop in our own lives the positive spiritual qualities we see in others. God is called a jealous God, which means He wants exclusive devotion from us as a groom does to a bride. If a husband sees another man trying to seduce his wife and alienate her from their marriage, then he has a right to be righteously jealous. God is that way when He sees things that are taking our heart away from him (2 Cor. 11:2).
However, when jealousy goes bad, when we cannot get something we want and we become bitter or frustrated, it turns into envy. When does it become envy? When we feel displeasure over the blessings of others are enjoying and it makes us want to deprive them of that enjoyment. Jealousy wants what others have, while envy wants to keep them from having it.
Notice Rachel here envies Leah’s fertility. Why? Because their society said, “If you can’t have children, you are nothing. You are a failure and you are worth nothing.” Her identity was based on what he society said was important, not what God said. And she is not the only one. Look at Gen. 30:13. Leah says after having children through her servant, “Happy am I! For women have called me happy.” What does she mean? She means, “I am to be envied.” She envied her sister’s beauty and even the love her sister received from Jacob, but she had something that her sister was envious of and her children are merely used as ways to get that recognition for herself. She too is finding her worth in what society says. One sister in not having something reveals where her heart is and the other sister, in having it and enjoying the fact that her other sister cannot enjoy it, reveals she too is controlled by envy.
Pastor Tim Challies says, “When I see your success, it makes me think less of myself. It calls into question all that I am, all that I’ve done, all that I’ve accomplished, all that I’ve worked for. It becomes an issue of my own identity. Your success screams that I have failed.” So when we envy, we start to believe that who we are is dependent on where others are in comparison to us in life. Then we feel barren.
And every society says, “Unless you have THIS, you are barren.” And when the pressure hits you and you feel like you need to overcome that barrenness, will you choose God or your own way? Notice what she says: “Give me children or I shall die!” Really? You’re going to die if you don’t have children? Life is not worth living if she doesn’t have this. Ironically, she does die and it will be when she has a child (Gen. 35:16-19). But look at Leah’s heart in Gen. 30:20. She says, “Now my husband will honor me.” She’s still struggling with winning her husband’s affection. Didn’t she have an epiphany with having Judah and being satisfied with God’s love? (Gen. 29:35). She did, but are we any different?
Know what you envy and you will know where you have placed your identity. It is an opportunity to see your heart. What do you envy? And what does that show about where you have placed your identity? When you understand your envy, you will understand your heart. Secondly:
ENVY SCHEMES FOR SELF-SALVATION
This is now three generations of barrenness. When Sarah was barren, she decided to take matters into her own hands and bring Hagar into the picture (Gen. 16). When Rebekah was pregnant, Isaac prayed (Gen. 25:21). Now when Rachel is barren, what will Jacob, the father of Israel, do? He gets angry and blames God (Gen. 30:2). Let’s focus on what God has withheld, Rachel. Isn’t that Satan’s early ploy? God is a stingy God. Let’s focus on what we don’t have and other enjoying what we think we should be having. For once, Jacob cannot scheme to fix this problem and since he cannot be seen as inadequate, essentially he says, “It’s not me. I got kids everywhere. Go ask God about it.” Isaac had his own issues, but he did go to the Lord with their need for children as opposed to Jacob who doesn’t want anything to do with Rachel’s struggle.
It is funny to see Jacob mad at Rachel. He’s worked 14 years with the hopes of getting some fulfillment in getting her and now I wonder if he is disappointed? So the pressure is on for Rachel. Jacob, the husband, does not care. Rachel is still barren while her sister has moved on. No one is praying about this in this story.
What should she do? Take the matter into her own hands. I will save myself from my barrenness my way! Just like Sarah, Rachel proposes the servant idea and like Abraham, Jacob does not fight the idea. Lo and behold, there is the answer to Rachel’s dilemma when Bilhah has a son. In Gen. 30:9, then Leah does the same thing when Rachel gets two sons! She already has four sons! Why bring a fourth woman involved? Envy. These women are like two little girls on the playground trying to one-up the other. Why? Envy. I am important. No! I am. Notice me! I am more important than you!
Envy is dangerous because once you let it control you, you start to think of ways you can get rid of it by your own way. So that person envious of other’s stuff, starts to buys things without having the money. The believer who wants to be in a relationship, gets tired of waiting, begins to compromise spiritual values and gets into relationship with an unbeliever. But it is not an external problem, but an internal one. And you find that envy is still there even when you try to self-save your situation and we all make very bad Messiahs.
ENVY AND SELF-PITY
Notice what Rachel says when she gets a son through Bilhah in Gen. 30:6: “God has judged me and heard my voice and given me a son.” Notice the narrator does not say this. Rachel says it. “God blessed this adultery and now I have what I wanted!” The word “vindicated” literally means, “justice for an individual who finds herself in a heretofore hopeless and helpless state.”
This is self-pity. Self-pity is this brooding over the circumstances of life. It is focusing on the negatives of life, denying the possibility that things will ever change or improve. Really it is anger toward God and protesting against His providence. It is pride and selfishness that demands the “right” to have more, be more or to do more. We think we deserve better and God owes us for something. Perhaps the reason we throw all of the pity parties in our lives is because we are envious? Perhaps envy is at the root of a lot more of our problems than we have thought?
ENVY ALWAYS COMPETES
Where there is envy, there is always competition. Look at Rachel, once she has two sons in Gen. 30:8: “With mighty wrestlings I have wrestled with my sister and have prevailed.” Rachel sees her life as a competition. C.S. Lewis says,
“Pride is essentially competitive. Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. We say people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they are not. They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better-looking than others.”
When you are proud you compare yourself with another person and there are only two possible outcomes: If you believe you come out on top, you feel even more pride; if you believe you come out on the bottom, you feel envy. Envy comes when Pride is wounded. Envy convinces me that I am competing with another person, and when I lose that competition, I feel worthless. Guinness adds,
“Once the element of competition comes in, envy will not be far behind. For what happens if you pause for a moment in the path of your calling and look across at other people in theirs? You can always find someone who has a happier marriage, more delightful children, a higher income, greater public recognition, or whatever surface successes touch on the subterranean depths of your desires. Just let such comparisons mix with your less worthy desires and envy will rear its ugly head again—an envy that increases, not lessens, with age; an envy that may be petty but will be all-consuming; an envy that focuses on those most competitive, and therefore closest, to your own gifts and calling; an envy that is finally self-destructive because what the envier cannot enjoy, no one is allowed to.”
Guinness quotes Thomas Mann saying, “we are always most vulnerable to envying those closest to our own gifts and callings. Musicians generally envy musicians, not politicians; politicians other politicians; sportspeople other sportspeople; professors other professors; ministers other ministers.” Instead of helping and supporting people like us in our season and our calling, we set ourselves against them, driven mad by their success. We only envy those whom we feel ourselves to be like.
Envy is a disease called comparisonitis. Nothing is ever good enough. When envy has you in its grip, nothing is good enough – your job, your marriage, your money, your body. You lose the ability to enjoy the moment because you are comparing it to everyone else. It poisons us psychologically and socially. Perhaps some of our critical spirits is really because we are envious? Could it be?
ENVY IS NEVER SATISFIED
Rachel has two sons now through Bilhah. So the score is 4-2. Then Leah, not to be outdone, hires her servant Zilpah to come in from the bullpen and save her. Zilpah gets two more sons for Leah. Everyone can get pregnant and have sons except for Rachel. Very sad. Now the score is 6-2. Everyone satisfied? No one is except Jacob. He has no problem with all the women thrown at him.
Leah is winning. No! Rachel gets even more desperate. One day, Leah’s oldest son, Reuben, finds mandrake plants during the wheat harvest (Gen. 30:14). He might be five or six years old or older, we are not exactly sure. A mandrake is a perennial Mediterranean plant that bears bluish flowers in winter and yellowish plum-sized fruit in summer. It is said to give off this fragrance, which supposedly arouses desire and also helps barren women to conceive. Pastor Kent Hughes says, “The power of mandrakes was and is superstitious and not scientific. But what is clear here is that Rachel and Leah believed the mandrake myth and thus the mandrakes became coins for a desperate bargain.”
Rachel supposedly had the power to decide who had conjugal rights with her husband (Gen. 30:15) Just like Jacob trades bowl of stew for Esau’s birthright, they make an exchange. Rachel thinks this special plant will get her pregnant. Our hearts end up doing things we never imagined when it is driven by envy! And wouldn’t you know it, Rachel and her mandrakes keep her still barren, while Leah now has two more sons and a daughter (Gen. 30:16-21). She ends up with seven children before Rachel has one of her own.
Envy is insatiable. It will always drain the joy out of our lives. It will stab a hole in your soul a million times. And the worst part is as Rick Warren says, “envy is resenting God’s goodness to others and ignoring God’s goodness to me.” Notice in this chapter, the children all suffer. They even get named as a result of the sisters envying one another. There is no gratitude for these children and the gifts that they are. Envy sucks out gratitude. Don’t give thanks for your vacation by the lake; let’s envy the person who owns lake property. Don’t appreciate your apartment; but look at your colleague’s four-bedroom house. Just like in the Garden: Magnify the prohibitions. Minimize the provisions. So what will God do with these envious women?
II. There is more grace in God’s heart than envy in ours (Gen. 30:17-24)
Notice God’s name being thrown around this chapter as a way to get these women what they wanted because of their envy. God was being used, just like Jacob was, their children were, to help these women feel better about themselves. So how will God respond to all of this scheming? All of this jealousy? All of this polygamous mess? Look at Gen. 30:17: “God listened to Leah.” Look down at Gen. 30:22: “Then God remembered Rachel and God listened to her.” God moves toward these women in grace.
When God “remembers” someone is not that somehow [God] got busy with other things and Rachel slipped from His mind for a while. Then something reminded Him and He snapped His fingers and said, “Rachel! I forgot all about her down there!” This word refers to God taking action on His promises. God keeps His promises. And when God “remembers” something, it is when He acts. But notice there is no mention of maids, greedily holding on Jacob or mandrakes. Rachel has come to the end of herself. Why did Rachel get pregnant? God responded to her envious heart with grace. Both Leah and Rachel had children only because God did it. Both had been visited in their low estate. This was grace alone. All was of God. As Hughes notes, the grace of God was “fully operational throughout the scheming and manipulation, the surrogate competition, the love potions, the selling of intimacy, the celebrating and the gloating, the humiliations and the tears of the loveless and childless.”  Rachel responds in gratitude thanking God for removing her shame in Gen. 30:23.
Why does God take away her shame? Why does God move toward these women in grace? For envious people like us and like them, love has come. Through this mess, the ultimate hope would come through the ultimate offspring of Jacob, Jesus Christ. He had all glory and all rights and all approval and all fame and all prestige and all success and all honor. Yet He gave it all up on the cross. On the cross, He took the ultimate shame. Do you know what would really be shameful? To stand before God one day and answer for every little envy in our heart. Envy thinks that we deserve more than we have, but the gospel says, we deserve death and shame and hell for our sins, but Jesus was treated like we deserved, so we can now be treated as Jesus deserved. He took that shame. He was ultimately barren, looked down by all so we can have His fullness and love. Today, our disgrace is removed in Christ. We have His love and affection. He looks upon us not marred by our insecurities and envy, but completely acceptable and honored and accepted by grace.
He was despised and rejected, so we can be accepted and loved. He did not come as a selfish grabber, asking like Rachel to “GET ME CHILDREN OR I’LL DIE” but as an open-handed giver, “Father, I willingly give myself to die, so these could your children.”
He willingly gave it all up so we can have all that belonged to Him. Titus 3:3 says, “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy…so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” We will one day get all that our hearts could have ever wanted or longed for…completely satisfied, because we are heirs with Christ.
Paul says, “Love does not envy” (1 Cor. 13:4). We do not need to pray for less envy, but more love. How do we love others instead of envying them? Love God. How do we love God? Remember His jealous love for us envious sinners.
1. Look up: pray for those you envy. It is hard to pray for someone and not find your heart strangely loving them.
2. Look around: serve them. Celebrate them. Don’t wait until you feel like it, but remember that when God commands us to love, He is not commanding a feeling, but a set of actions. Feelings of love will be strengthened by the actions of love.
3. Look inward: cultivate a heart of gratitude.
4. Look forward to the day our desires will be forever satisfied. One day no one will rob us of our joy.
Mark Buchanan writes,
“Here is the surprise: God made us this way. He made us to yearn – to always be hungry for something we can’t get, to always be missing something we can’t find, to always be disappointed with what we receive, to always have an insatiable emptiness that no thing can fill and an untamable restlessness that no discovery can still. Yearning itself is healthy – a kind of compass inside us, pointing to True North. It’s not the wanting that corrupts us. What corrupts us is the wanting that’s misplaced, set on the wrong thing.” Spurgeon says, “The more of heaven there is in our lives, the less of earth we shall covet. The fear of God casts out envy of men.”
Author and Pastor Max Lucado shares this story: Susie trusted her father with her pearls. At the age of six her most treasured possession was a string of pearls. The fact that they were fake didn’t bother her. She wore them everywhere and played with them every day. She loved the pearls.
She also loved her daddy. His business often took him away for days at a time. The first day home would always be one of celebration. As an adult Susie can still remember the time he spent a week in the Orient. When he finally returned, the daddy and daughter played all afternoon. As he put her to bed, he asked this question: “Do you love me?”
“Yes, Daddy. I love you more than anything.”
“More than anything?”
“More than anything.”
He paused for a moment. “More than the pearls? Would you give me your pearls?”
“Oh, Daddy,” she replied. “I couldn’t do that. I love my pearls.”
“I understand,” he told her and kissed her good-night.
As she fell asleep, she thought about his request. When she awoke, she thought about it some more. It was on her mind that morning and later in the day. Finally, that night, she went to him with her pearls. “Daddy, I love you more than these. Here, you take them.”
“I’m so glad to hear that,” he said, standing and opening his attaché case. “I brought you a gift.”
She opened the small flat box and gasped. Pearls. Genuine pearls.
You suppose your Father wants to give you some as well? He offers authentic love. His devotion is the real deal. But he won’t give you the genuine until you surrender the imitations.
What pearls is he hoping you’ll release? What costume jewelry would he love for you to drop? Would you exchange the lesser gifts for the highest gift of knowing God? If you would, then your envy will pass. Jealousy has no fire when true love is received.”
We must repent of our envy. Let’s wrap up with some questions:
Do you work extremely hard to come out looking good?
Do you examine others with a critical eye? Could envy be at the root of it?
Do you have hidden feelings of inferiority? Could envy be at the root of your self pity?
Do you complain about not getting fair treatment?
Do you compete with others (esp. on social media)?
Do you need a lot of recognition for your achievements?
Do you tend to be status conscious?
Do you find it hard to pay compliments to others?
Do you keep score of your own good deeds and those of others?
Are you willing to pass along negative rumors about a successful person?
Do you put on a false front in order to appear impressive?
Do you base your self-image on your performance?
“Despair, envy and social media blues,” http://www.nst.com.my/top-news/despair-envy-and-our-social-media-blues-1.26249# accessed 12 July 2012.
Aquinas, T. “Of Envy (Four articles),” http://www.sacred-texts.com/chr/aquinas/summa/sum291.htm accessed 12 July 2012.
Guinness, Os (1998). The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life (124).
Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.
Strauss, R. L. (1984). The Joy of Knowing God. Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers.
Challies, T. “The Lost Sin of Envy: How Envy Behaves,” http://www.challies.com/christian-living/the-lost-sin-of-envy-how-envy-behaves accessed 13 July 2012.
Hamilton, V. P. (1995). The Book of Genesis, Chapters 18–50. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (271). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Discipleship Journal, Issue 21 (May/June 1984). 1984. NavPress.
Challies, T. Ibid.
Guinness, O. (125).
Guinness, O. (126).
Keller, T. Ibid.
Wenham, G. J. (1998). Vol. 2: Genesis 16–50. Word Biblical Commentary (246). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.
Hughes, R. K. (2004). Genesis: Beginning and Blessing. Preaching the Word (377). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
Cole, Stephen. “When you feel forgotten by God,” http://www.fcfonline.org/content/1/sermons/041496M.pdf accessed 21 October 2011.
Hughes, R. K. (378).
Taken from http://www.themissionexchange.org/bookreview/indexPrint.php?id1=71 accessed 13 July 2012.
Spurgeon, C. H. (2009). The Chequebook of the bank of faith: Being precious promises arranged for daily use with brief comments (127). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
Lucado, M. (2002). A Love Worth Giving: Living in the overflow of God’s love. Nashville, Tenn.: W Pub. Group.
Adapted from “[Facing your Feelings 9] Envy—-The Green Eyed Tyrant,” http://bible.org/seriespage/chapter-9-envy%E2%80%94-green-eyed-tyrant accessed 13 July 2012.