Have you ever wondered about the phrase ‘God remembered’? It seems to imply that God can forget, or at least that something has been absent from His mind until it is remembered. It occurs throughout the Bible, and I first came across it in the story of Noah:
“But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded.” (Gen 8:1).
As a child I used to think this meant that God had forgotten about Noah for a while and left him bobbing around on the flood-waters until he remembered him again. I mean, after all, God has plenty of other things to attend to – the universe doesn’t stop just because Noah is all at sea.
The phrase is used again in Genesis 19:29 when God rescues Lot from Sodom because ‘he remembered Abraham’. God ‘remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob’ in Exodus 2:24 just before He redeems His people from their Egyptian slavery, and with the prospect of future struggles in mind God promises Moses that the people will be ‘remembered by the Lord your God and rescued from your enemies.’ (Numbers 10:9).
Elsewhere in the Bible the phrase is used to convey how God keeps His beloved people in mind (Psalm 98:3), how he takes notice of charitable giving (Acts 10:31) and how he brings sinful people to mind for judgement (Revelation 16:19; 18:5).
The usage in Genesis 30:22 is similar to that of Noah’s story, remembering someone in need. “The God remembered Rachel; He listened to her and enabled her to conceive.”
It comes in the middle of an unflattering passage where Jacob, having been outdone in trickery by Laban, finds himself with four wives and children popping up everywhere. The unwanted Leah has no problem in producing Reuben, Simeon, Levi and Judah in quick succession, whereas Rachel, the one Jacob really fell for, ‘remained childless.’ (Gen 29:31).
I can sympathise with Jacob to an extent. He had been wronged by Laban, and it must have been difficult to love someone who had been foisted on him deceitfully, especially when she wasn’t much to look at (29:17). Nevertheless, having ended up with her, he should have treated her well, and we’re explicitly told that her rampant fertility was because ‘the Lord saw that Leah was not loved’.
God has His ways of compensating people who’ve had a rough deal. Rachel had done nothing wrong, but still God balanced out the devotion she enjoyed from her husband by giving to her unloved sister many children, which were an important source of social status in this society. God is love: he wants nothing more from us than to love, and so a charge of non-loving is pretty serious in His eyes. That’s why he took such pity on Leah.
It was also probably a way for Him to maximise Jacob’s fruitfulness. Part of the promise to Jacob, along with his father and grandfather, was that they would be made into a great nation (28:14), and that would have taken quite a bit longer if Jacob only had one wife. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think the polygamy and trading of sexual favours in Gen 29-31 was God’s ideal scenario, but as is ever His way, He used it for His own purposes and so out of the mess brought the fulfilment of His promise. The twelve sons of Jacob were to play a vital role in creating the populous nation of Israel, not to mention its subsequent adventures.
So Rachel has seen her sister outdoing her in son-making, and she feels the jealousy and shame so keenly that she demands of Jacob, “Give me children, or I’ll die!” She resorts to using her servant Bilhah as a surrogate parent, just like Sarah did with Hagar in Genesis 16, but even then Leah does better, producing a fifth and sixth son, and a daughter as well. By the end of verse 21 Rachel must have been feeling pretty fed up.
Do you ever feel like that? See others getting on ahead of you, flourishing inexplicably whilst you languish? Pregnancy aside, it’s something I’ve felt many times. That feeling when God seems to have forgotten His promises to you. It’s not a good place to be in. It’s when the devil can start to gain undeserved credence with his lies that you’re worthless and won’t get anything from God, who must be distant and forgetful.
If you’ve been in that place, if you are in that place, I say to you what I’ve had to repeatedly say to myself: God has not forgotten you. He will never forget you. You are so much on His mind that He has engraved your name on his palms, and He says that a mother will forget her child before He forgets you (Isaiah 49:15-16). The only thing He forgets about you are your sins, when they’re covered in Christ (Colossians 3:3).
So when God remembers Rachel in verse 22, it’s not because he had forgotten her until then, any more than he had forgotten Noah. It was because now was the right time to give her what she wanted. For reasons I can’t explain, this was the right time for her to be blessed. God’s timing is perfect, and though we might not understand, we need to trust in that fact. We want everything now, a demand for instant gratification egged on by our materialistic culture, but if we got everything we wanted as soon as we wanted it, how spoilt would we be, how would we learn to value anything?
If God’s keeping you waiting, it’s for a good reason. It’s not because He doesn’t love you. Who was the child Rachel waited so long for? Only Joseph, the most favoured, the most Christlike, the most exalted of all Jacob’s sons, and one of the most important characters in the Bible, a man loved and emulated by millions across the centuries. That was worth waiting for. Chances are, that thing you’re waiting for, will be even better that you hope. You know why? Because God is He ‘who is able to do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine’ (Ephesians 3:20).