Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Jacob Agrees To Work For Rachel’s Hand in Marriage -- Genesis 29:16-20

Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. And Leah's eyes were weak, but Rachel was beautiful of form and face. Now Jacob loved Rachel, so he said, "I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel." Laban said, "It is better that I give her to you than to give her to another man; stay with me." So Jacob served seven years for Rachel and they seemed to him but a few days because of his love for her.

Before we learn how Jacob responded to Laban’s questions about how he would like to be compensated for the work he is doing for Laban, the writer of the text has to fill us in on some more background information. Laban, we are told, had two daughters. There was Rachel whom we had already met and her older sister Leah. Scripture says Leah had weak eyes and it is an interesting conjecture as to what exactly this may mean. The actual word translated as ‘eyes’ here also has the implication of referring to mental qualities and mental or spiritual faculties in addition to serving as a definition for the physical eye itself. Given the comparison made with Rachel’s appearance that follows, one can safely, but not with total assurance, make the assumption that any weakness Leah had with respect to her eyes did indeed refer to how they looked. It is also possible, as I have read, that in those Middle East lands of the time, dark brown eyes were considered to be a strong asset and bluish-grey eyes appeared blurry and thus weak. Leah may well have had blue eyes.

It is interesting how the Bible is filled with many comparative observations about people. Already we have read the various comparisons of Cain and Abel (farmer/hunter), Jacob and Esau (smooth/hairy), and now Leah/Rachel (weak eyes/beautiful form and face). To this point they have all been on external characteristics (career, skin covering, looks). Rachel was indeed beautiful in every physical aspect and it is no wonder that Jacob fell head over heels for her the moment he laid eyes on her. The text confirms that Jacob loved Rachel, providing a solid answer to our earlier question concerning the manner and intent of his kiss when he first met her. He was indeed smitten by love at first sight.

So to Laban’s question of “how then shall I reward you for your work?” Jacob replies that he is prepared to work for seven years in exchange for being allowed to marry Laban’s daughter, specifically Laban’s “younger daughter Rachel”. First of all, can you imagine anyone today willing to work for seven years for a future father-in-law as a condition for being allowed to marry one of his daughters? I don’t think so. First of all we would consider it totally unfair for a father to make such a demand and secondly, my observations tell me that most young men prefer to dissociate themselves entirely from their perspective wife’s family business and prove they can make it on their own. Most that is, except those that know a good thing when they see it. Without definitely putting Jacob in that category, we can at least say that, since he made this offer himself, he saw this as a fair arrangement. But notice that he was, perhaps intentionally, perhaps not, very specific as to which daughter he was talking about and Laban knew that.

For his part, Laban either mulls it over in his mind or already has a prepared answer. He tells Jacob that it is better to give Rachel to him than any other man he knows and implicitly agrees to Jacob’s request by asking him to continue staying on. The result of that agreement remains to be discovered in the sections of scripture still before us. Suffice it to say that there remains to this day in parts of the Middle East and Europe the belief that a younger daughter should not be given in marriage before an older one. Laban knew that when he made this agreement with Jacob. While some argue there was no such expectation or custom, I side with those that have supported its existence.

So Jacob stayed for seven years, waiting to marry Rachel. Now you have to understand that in those days even engaged or betrothed individuals did not get all the freedom to be together that even our teenagers on first dates get these days. No, this was a very controlled and observed relationship between Jacob and Rachel. And still, the text says that time passed quickly because of love. In particular, Jacob felt the seven years went by quickly, almost like days, because of his love for Rachel. As I read that, I wondered whether my love for my wife would have driven me to wait seven years for her, under the conditions that Jacob had to wait for Rachel. I do know that previous to meeting the woman that would become my wife, I had two female friends (at different times) where clearly something as simple as distance was enough to end the relationship. What Jacob undertook successfully goes to his credit.

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1 comment:

  1. Anonymous7/10/09 21:26

    "ain't love strange" or "ain't love grand"'ll make you walk through fire...