Jacob, Leah, Rachel—This Is A Mess
I am writing up reflections on my devotions every day for six weeks. This is one of those posts.
I have ten minutes tonight, so this is going to be a quick (and probably short) set of reflections. I got to Genesis 29 and 30 this evening, and read them together since the former flows neatly into the latter. The short version is: Jacob and his family are a mess, right from the start. If it wasn’t bad enough the way Jacob left his own family, it quickly becomes apparent that things with Laban won’t be any better—indeed, they’ll be worse.
Jacob falls in love with Rachel, makes a deal with her father than he can marry her if he works for seven years. Two thoughts: (1) that’s serious dedication; (2) I wonder how Rachel felt about the whole thing. Jacob finishes the seven years, Laban throws a party, and then Jacob and Rachel go to bed. Er, except that it’s Leah. One of my favorite lines in the Old Testament, here: “And in the morning, behold, it was Leah!” (Genesis 29:25). I’m married, and I’m really not quite sure how that worked.
Growing up, I was always under the impression that Jacob then had to work another 7 years before he got to have Rachel as his wife; as it turns out, he worked those 7 further years after having her as his wife. He had both Leah and Rachel as wives within a week of each other. To any guy that’s ever been tempted to think polygamy is a good idea, the rest of chapters 29–30 could be put here precisely to put that notion to rest. You know, with a bullet to the heart. What follows is a tale of sisters who clearly envy each other and see themselves in constant competition with one another, even using their maids as a way to get offspring for themselves.
Seriously: who does that? What woman says, “Here, go have sex with this other woman so that I can outdo my sister (with whom you are also sleeping) in our competition for having children?” Different culture, yes,1 but still: these people were a mess.
And that right there is one of the greatest comforts in Scripture to me. We have Abraham, the patriarch of the faith, followed by his son Isaac, who repeats his father’s mistakes and then gets outfoxed by his wife and son’s trickery. Then comes Jacob, who steals his brother’s blessing after tricking him out of his birthright, and the twelve sons who become the patriarchs of the twelve tribes of Israel come out of the backbiting and jealousy between the two women he married. This is the cast of characters through whom God is planning to bring blessing to all the nations of the world.
There is a magnificent, beautiful gem that gives a hint of what is coming buried in the middle of this. Throughout all the jealousy, giving of maids, and so on, only once does someone stop and simply praise God: Leah, when Judah is born (Genesis 29:35). And where does that promised blessing come from, ultimately? The line of Judah—not the firstborn son, but the kid in the middle, who is the only one about whom there is no complaining or wheedling for more, just a simple bit of praise offered to Yahweh.
God is working his plan. Jacob’s family makes it clear that he can work it just fine with people who are a mess. And in the midst of that mess, the Messianic hope just keeps growing. Praise Yahweh.
- Given that Sarah uses the same tactic to try to bring about God’s promises with Abraham, it was obviously a thing that was done. It still doesn’t process to me. ↩