By Elizabeth Prata
Genesis 30:14-16. Rachel ‘bought’ Jacob by trading him to Leah for a night of passion because she wanted Leah’s son Reuben’s mandrakes that Reuben had found and brought to Leah.
“Mandrakes! I want those!,” Rachel said, coveting. She schemed and bargained for them. So what’s so hot about mandrakes? What are mandrakes? Are they valuable? Are they a plant, mineral, or something else? Why did Rachel want them so badly she was willing to give over her precious Jacob to the ‘lesser’ wife for a night in order to obtain them?
When you read the Bible, allow your mind to ask questions of it as you go. Then delve further when your reading is finished to learn more about what God has put down in His word. It’s how I learn best, anyway. Asking questions of the text may help you, too. Remember, the Spirit is in us to help illuminate the word. Asking questions of the text is a way to ask the Spirit, and his ministry will lead you to illumination. It’s a more active form of learning than just passively reading.
Let’s start with the verse:
Now in the days of wheat harvest Reuben went and found mandrake fruits in the field, and brought them to his mother Leah. Then Rachel said to Leah, “Please give me some of your son’s mandrakes.” But she said to her, “Is it a small matter for you to take my husband? And would you take my son’s mandrakes also?” So Rachel said, “Therefore he may sleep with you tonight in return for your son’s mandrakes.” When Jacob came in from the field in the evening, Leah went out to meet him and said, “You must have relations with me, for I have indeed hired you with my son’s mandrakes.” So he slept with her that night.
Mandrakes are in the field, so they are likely a plant. Let me look them up.
From Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary:
MANDRAKE Small, perennial plant (Mandragora officinarum) native to the Middle East. Although not grown for food, its root and berries are edible. The ancient Near East viewed it as an aphrodisiac and fertility drug. It is often called love apple or devil’s apple. According to Gen. 30:14–16 a barren Rachel bargained with Reuben (Leah’s oldest son) for some mandrakes which he had found. Leah, however, produced the children (Gen. 30:17–21). Only when God “remembered Rachel” did she bear Joseph (30:24).
Ah! It’s a fertility plant. Or allegedly it brings babies. Remember, Rachel was barren at that time. Leah had borne boys already. The competition was on. No wonder Rachel was hot to get those mandrakes.
But it’s the same old story. Man (or woman) scheme to get their way when God is sovereignly in control. Sarah used Hagar to get a child when God had already promised one to Abraham.
In fact God gave Leah two more sons after this incident, Zebulun and Issachar. Rachel remained barren for a long time after.
Mandrake, species name Mandragora officinarum, belongs to the nightshade family. All parts of the mandrake plant are poisonous if ingested in sufficient amounts. The parsnip-shaped root contains several different hallucinogenic alkaloids and is often branched, resembling a human figure. The root has long been used in magic rituals due to its shape and psychoactive properties. Leah sold some of the mandrakes that her son Reuben found to Rachel in exchange for uncontested time with Jacob; their son Issachar was conceived that night (Gen 30:14–16). Gen 30:14–16, Song 7:13.
Source for illustration and caption information from Myers, R. (2012). Images from The Temple Dictionary of the Bible.
The ancient Palestinians in the Near East thought mandrakes were an aphrodisiac. They used it as a fertility drug. It is interesting that it is known as the love apple or the devil’s apple. Biblical Studies Press says,
The unusual shape of the large forked roots of the mandrake resembles the human body with extended arms and legs. This similarity gave rise to the popular superstition that the mandrake could induce conception and it was therefore used as a fertility drug. It was so thoroughly associated with erotic love that its name is derived from the Hebrew root דּוֹד (dod, "love"), that is, דּוּדָאִים (duda’im) denotes "love-apples." Source Biblical Studies Press. (2006). The NET Bible First Edition Notes (So 7:11–13).
Ah! Becoming much clearer to me now.
One more tidbit.
According to the legend, when the root is dug up, it screams and kills all who hear it. Ancient literature includes complex directions for harvesting a mandrake root in relative safety. For example, Josephus (circa 37–100 AD) of Jerusalem gives the following directions for pulling it up:
A furrow must be dug around the root until its lower part is exposed, then a dog is tied to it, after which the person tying the dog must get away. The dog then endeavours to follow him, and so easily pulls up the root, but dies suddenly instead of his master. After this, the root can be handled without fear.Wikipedia
Rachel put her trust in a plant from the ground instead of the LORD above. Her scheming did not work out, it actually backfired. The LORD kept her barren a long time and she had to deal with her scheming personality, her competitiveness, and her impatience until He deemed her ready to bear a child.
We should trust in Him always. God knows best. He is perfect and has promised good to us. Seeking relief for infertility from a toxic plant doesn’t even compare to the goodness of our holy God.
Are there ‘mandrakes’ in your life? In mine? Do I seek my own way and scheme to fulfill personal desires, or do I pray to Jesus giving Him my cares and leave them in His hands? This is something I need to ask myself every day. The spirit is willing but our flesh is weak. (Matthew 26:40-43). Rachel eventually realized this. God is better than mandrakes.