Genesis 29:15-30 New International Version (NIV)
15 Laban said to him, “Just because you are a relative of mine, should you work for me for nothing? Tell me what your wages should be.”
16 Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. 17 Leah had weak[a] eyes, but Rachel had a lovely figure and was beautiful. 18 Jacob was in love with Rachel and said, “I’ll work for you seven years in return for your younger daughter Rachel.”
19 Laban said, “It’s better that I give her to you than to some other man. Stay here with me.” 20 So Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her.
21 Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife. My time is completed, and I want to make love to her.”
22 So Laban brought together all the people of the place and gave a feast. 23 But when evening came, he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob, and Jacob made love to her. 24 And Laban gave his servant Zilpah to his daughter as her attendant.
25 When morning came, there was Leah! So Jacob said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? I served you for Rachel, didn’t I? Why have you deceived me?”
26 Laban replied, “It is not our custom here to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older one. 27 Finish this daughter’s bridal week; then we will give you the younger one also, in return for another seven years of work.”
28 And Jacob did so. He finished the week with Leah, and then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel to be his wife. 29 Laban gave his servant Bilhah to his daughter Rachel as her attendant. 30 Jacob made love to Rachel also, and his love for Rachel was greater than his love for Leah. And he worked for Laban another seven years.
Last week, I told you about Jacob’s coming of age story. He made a great journey of discovery where he claimed God as his own and wrestled with God. God affirms He will bless Jacob and his descendants. Jacob is forever changed by his experience of God on this journey to and from Canaan. It is what happens during his sojourn in his grandfather Abraham’s homeland.
You might remember Jacob was a trickster. He had swindled his brother out of his birthright and tricked their father into blessing him. After all this, Esau vowed to kill Jacob once their father died. Their mother, Rebekah, sent Jacob away to her brother’s house seeking refuge until Esau’s anger calmed. That’s where our story takes place today, in Paddan Aram.
Jacob arrived in Paddan Aram at a well in the open country. He was met by some shepherds coming in to water their sheep. One of the shepherds was his cousin, Rachel. At the well, Jacob kissed Rachel for the first time. After watering the sheep, Rachel and Jacob went to Laban’s house.
Laban was Jacob’s uncle, his mother’s brother. Laban invited Jacob to stay there and put him to work. After one month, Laban asked what he should pay Jacob. Laban had 2 daughters, Leah and Rachel. The Bible says Rachel was lovely and beautiful. It says Leah had weak or delicate eyes. This is hard to translate literally, because it is an idiom. It is a nice way of saying she wasn’t very pretty. Kinda like, she has a great personality.
Jacob was in love with Rachel and asked for her hand in marriage in exchange for 7 years of work. Laban agreed that Jacob could work for seven years to marry Rachel. This is the first time in the Bible that a man is referred to as loving a woman. Love may not have been part of marriages to this point. Marriages may have been arranged for many different reasons.
Laban agrees to the length of the work, probably in part, because he will need that time to find a suitable husband for Leah. It is their custom for the younger sister to marry before the older. Laban was going to need some time to search for a husband for Leah while suitors were lined up for Rachel.
The truth is Rachel probably wanted someone more like Jacob’s brother, Esau. Esau, you might remember, was a man’s man. He hunted and was strong. Jacob was a momma’s boy, a cheat, and a coward. Rachel probably had much better candidates lining up outside Laban’s door asking for her hand, but Laban had promised her to Jacob.
The 7 years passed as if days for Jacob, but Laban was not successful in finding a husband for Leah. Jacob’s feelings for Rachel persisted. Laban would have to do something. Jacob was ready to take a wife.
Now, the trickster is tricked by his uncle. On the night of the wedding, Laban sent Leah into the tent, instead of Rachel. Jacob enjoyed his wedding night, but was surprised to find Leah, not Rachel, in the morning. Jacob is not happy. He goes to Laban and confronts him for tricking him.
Laban says that he couldn’t very well marry off his youngest daughter without the older one first being married. Laban agrees to give him Rachel for another 7 years of work. First, Jacob must complete his honeymoon with Leah. Then, Laban gathers the people again for another wedding feast and Jacob is married to Rachel.
How often in life are we disappointed by receiving Leahs when we want Rachels? Or, get a Jacob when we want an Esau? I’m not literally talking about spouses. I’m talking about blessings.
We say God works in mysterious ways. We also say God doesn’t always give us what we want, but He gives us what we need. Sometimes, we don’t get what we want and aren’t happy with what we get. We put all of our energy into pursuing what we want and ignore or neglect what we’ve been given. We can’t earn God’s blessing, but we can mess it up. Perhaps, Leah was Jacob’s blessing and he messed it up with Rachel.
The Bible tells us Jacob loved Leah, but his love for Rachel was greater. God saw Leah’s neglect and blessed her with many children. Leah gave birth to Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun, and a daughter, Dinah. Rachel was sad that she didn’t have children, so she gave her servant, Bilhah, to Jacob to have children for her. Bilhah bore Dan and Naphtali. Leah wanted more children, so she gave her servant, Zilpah, to Jacob to have more children for her. Zilpah bore Gad and Asher. Finally, Rachel bore Joseph. Rachel and Leah fought for Jacob’s attention and affection.
On the family’s way from Paddan Aram to Bethel to Bethlehem, Rachel gave birth to another son, Benjamin, but died during childbirth. Rachel was buried where she died. The family continued on their journey.
It is not said where or when Leah died, but the Bible tells us where Jacob buried her. Way down in chapter 49, many years later, when Jacob is dying, he tells his sons where to bury him. Then, he tells his sons to bury him with his family, his fathers. “There Abraham and his wife Sarah were buried, there Isaac and his wife Rebekah were buried, and there I buried Leah (49:31).”
We can glean something about how Jacob felt about his wives in his later years based on where he buried Rachel and Leah. Rachel was buried where she died in Bethel. Jacob took the care to bury Leah in the family tomb. Jacob came to love Leah that he cared for her enough to bury her with his family. His love for Rachel must have waned over the years that he didn’t carry her to his family’s tomb to be buried.
Over the years, Jacob grew to love Leah, perhaps more than Rachel. He finally recognized the blessing that Leah was. Jacob had worked 14 years to have Rachel as his wife. He ignored and neglected Leah for many years of their marriage, but, at some point, he came to love Leah. He realized that she was God’s blessing. Perhaps, he even knew he messed up by focusing all his energy on Rachel.
We can’t earn God’s blessing, but we can mess it up. God had blessed Jacob with Leah and he messed it up with Rachel. Jacob wouldn’t have had to work 14 years for Leah. Laban would have given Leah to Jacob without condition. But, Jacob insisted on taking Rachel for his wife. He worked 7 years for her and another 7. He messed up trying to earn Rachel, when he had a good wife in Leah.
There are so many ways we ignore and neglect our blessings striving for what we want. I think the best example is work and personal lives. Often, a person works hard to achieve their career goals and neglects their personal life. I can speak of this one, because I have been guilty of it. Too often, we set our sights on getting a promotion or getting that great job and neglect our family or don’t make time to do something besides work. God blesses us with family and friends and personal interests to bring joy to our lives aside from our work. God understands the need for rest. We can’t earn God’s blessing of family and friends, but we can mess it up by neglecting those blessings.
Another way we mess up blessings is by trying to turn Leahs into Rachels. We don’t always appreciate the people in our lives for who they are. We sometimes try to turn people into who we want them to be rather than celebrating who they are. We hold people to unreasonable expectations and are disappointed when they don’t meet them. We need to recognize the blessing they are just as they are and not try to turn our loved ones into someone they are not. We can’t earn God’s blessing, but we can mess it up trying to change it into what we want.
We can also try to hold onto something or someone when God is trying to bless us in another way. I think in these times we discover the truth of God doesn’t close a door without opening a window. We have a hard time letting go and waiting for that next blessing. Sometimes, we have to work hard at something to make it work; other times, we have to let go and let God bless us. We can’t earn God’s blessing, but we can mess it up trying to hold onto a past blessing.
All this is true of our relationship with the church. We may neglect the church trying to chase after other aspirations. We may hold onto what the church was when we are called to make it something new. We may put a lot of effort into making the church what we want it to be and ignore what God is trying to do. We can’t earn God’s blessing of the church. We simply have to show up to receive its blessings. We can mess it up by neglecting it, ignoring it, or making it what we want it to be.
May we not take for granted the church. May we strive only to love the church and put our efforts into making her the church God intends.