Saturday, October 10, 2009

Jacob Gets A Big Surprise -- Genesis 29:21-30


Then Jacob said to Laban, "Give me my wife, for my time is completed, that I may go in to her." Laban gathered all the men of the place and made a feast. Now in the evening he took his daughter Leah, and brought her to him; and Jacob went in to her. Laban also gave his maid Zilpah to his daughter Leah as a maid. So it came about in the morning that, behold, it was Leah! And he said to Laban, "What is this you have done to me? Was it not for Rachel that I served with you? Why then have you deceived me?" But Laban said, "It is not the practice in our place to marry off the younger before the firstborn. Complete the week of this one, and we will give you the other also for the service which you shall serve with me for another seven years." Jacob did so and completed her week, and he gave him his daughter Rachel as his wife. Laban also gave his maid Bilhah to his daughter Rachel as her maid. So Jacob went in to Rachel also, and indeed he loved Rachel more than Leah, and he served with Laban for another seven years.

Having worked his seven-year agreed-to term, Jacob goes to Laban and officially asks for his wife in order that he can finally have sexual relations with her. The text goes directly from quoting Jacob’s request to telling us that Laban simply gathered all the men of the place and made a feast. Notice there is no recorded account of a commitment that indicates Laban would indeed give Rachel to Jacob. In addition, it appears that the party or feast that Laban threw for Jacob was exclusively, or as a minimum primarily for men. It was the first recorded stag in history. And like most stags today, alcohol and in this case, wine, was flowing freely and long into the night. Jacob himself most likely participated fully in the event. Some believe these feasts or pre-marriage celebrations went on for a whole seven days. With darkness having arrived the first night and Jacob inebriated to some extent, Laban then takes his older daughter Leah and brings her to Jacob and he has sexual intercourse with her. That immediately, in those days, seals her marriage and as a married woman, her father also gives her a maid of her own, Zilpah. All this while Jacob, after having had intercourse, is sound asleep. How was all this possible? It was the custom of the day, according to some, that a bride was to be heavily veiled until she was alone with her husband. Add to that the facts that it was dark and Jacob was likely drunk at this point and you can see how this was indeed possible.

But then there’s always the morning after. Surprise Jacob. It wasn’t Rachel you married last night; it was Leah! So how does it feel to be cheated like that? Can you empathize a little with how Esau must have felt when you cheated him out of his blessing? How about your father Isaac when you deceived him with your fake fur on your arms pretending to be Esau? Cheating doesn’t feel good from this end, does it?

It is said that we often get treated the way we treat others. God has a way of allowing that to happen. We sometimes get what we deserve. What about Leah? She was either an accomplice in agreement or a daughter in submission to her father. We do not know if she secretly loved Jacob. It may have been a combination of all these things – Laban lining up an opportunity to marry off his older daughter by cheating, Jacob getting his just desserts, a cultural tradition that had to be followed, and Leah’s secret love and/or her obedience to her father. And where was Rachel that first night? Where was her mother? Here is a perfect early example of family solidarity even when the head of the home is doing something terribly wrong and deceitful. Every member of the family is easily persuaded by both familial and community pressures to go along with, to remain silent to, to the keep the secret of, the sin being committed. In this case it was deception involving who one had to marry. But more often and especially today, it has to do with physical abuse, sexual abuse including incest, alcohol and drug addiction, theft, cheating through the family business, lying, and even covering for a serious felony. Families, friends, clubs, boards, cabinets, have a way of doing this. Those that object are slowly moved to the sidelines never to be heard of again. When they later go public, they are labeled as disgruntled former members of the group. So many remain silent. Churches themselves are not immune to this. Honesty across the board is the best policy so that these situations do not arise, but when that is not possible, honesty among those that disagree must be pursued, although the cost is often incredible.

Jacob enquires of Laban, “What have you done to me? Our deal was about Rachel. I worked for her and you have deceived me.” He is familiar with broken deals and understanding, and with deceit. Laban blames the situation on a parochial tradition (the “practice in our place”) to marry off the older daughter first. We may not be able to confirm or deny that, but assuming it was true, Laban could have made that a requirement up front and Jacob may well have agreed to it. [Certainly no guest of Laban’s that week disagreed with him, but then again it would have been very unprofitable for him or her to call the host a liar.]

Laban tries to work out a deal with Jacob. If Jacob completes the marriage week with Leah, he would then give him Rachel right after that. Jacob was to have only Leah for one week and treat her as a wife, and be a husband to her, in every way during that honeymoon week. Then he would have Rachel as well. We must not miss what really occurred here. You will remember that Jacob’s father, Isaac, had only one wife, Rebekah. His parents were most upset that Jacob’s older brother, Esau, had taken more than one wife. Jacob came to Laban’s house to find a wife from his mother’s family, but now, due to the cheating sin of Laban is about to end up with two wives. One sin often leads to another and this was certainly the case here.

But Laban wasn’t going to give Rachel to Jacob for nothing. He required another seven years of labor from Jacob, even though he would have her now. Obviously, Jacob had shown by his demeanor that he wasn’t about to flee with Rachel, or even with Leah tagging along. If he agreed to the deal, he would stay and work the second seven years. Laban gives Rachel her own maid, Bilhah, as he done for Leah. So good old Jacob inherits two wives and their maids all in one week.

The Bible gives us no information as to how Jacob actually reacted to this deal except to say that he finished his week with Leah, then had sexual intercourse with Rachel, taking her as a wife as well, and proceeded to serve Laban another seven years. Why he did all that, no one knows, except that we are told he really loved Rachel and more specifically, he loved her more than Leah.

When God created marriage, He intended for a man and a woman to become one and to love each other unequivocally and unreservedly. The love that God instilled in us reserved for our spouse leaves no room whatsoever for another person. At its intended ultimate state, total marital love can only be expressed towards one person. Those that are married and have more than one child, realize that marital love is different than the love we have for our children – a love that can be equally distributed among our children. I love my three children equally and I love my five grandchildren equally. Distance, personality, activity preferences, etc., may mean I spend more time with one over another, but the felt love is identical. My love for my wife, however, with all of life’s intricacies, experiences, memories, struggles, joys, that we have shared after thirty-eight years of marriage, cannot be shared with anyone else. Those, who outside the will of God, think it can, are only fooling themselves. In fact, I would suggest that you are not really in love with that ‘second’ person, but rather you love what that person may be offering you at any given point in your life. Some become aware of that distinction before they get involved, some afterwards and by the grace of God and their spouse they can still return to what God intended, and some when it is too late and lives are ruined.

While God never prescribed polygamy, it is true He never legislated against it in the days of Jacob. But clearly from His early words with respect to marriage, as found in Genesis 2:24, we know that He preferred monogamy. Those that pursued polygamy, did so, partially out of ignorance and partially out of greed, egoism, and sometimes the pursuit of sensual pleasure. We end this section with the knowledge that Jacob now had two wives.

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