The Morning After... The Story of Jacob, Rachel and Leah (not necessarily in that order)
Genesis 29: 15-28
So far in our series, we have known Jacob as a trickster, a manipulator, a self serving, lying for his own gain type of person who is more concerned with personal security and preservation than giving a hoot about family traditions and cultural values. (whew!)
Today's text finds Jacob continuing east on his trek to obtain a wife from none other than the family of his crafty Uncle Laban, his Mother's brother. Spurred on, yet skeptical after his "ladder dream," ("I know you are real God, and IF)Jacob slowly makes his way through the desert. Exhausted, hot, thirsty, and surely near the end of his rope, he comes upon a well. There are three flocks of sheep lying around the well; and on the top of it, there was a large stone. The custom of the people of the area was, that when all the flocks from the area got to the well, then the shepherds... together... would roll away the stone from the top of the well, and then they would water their sheep., And then... together... they would put the stone back on the top of the well. (1)
And Jacob, ignoring etiquette, (how unlike him!) goes right up to the group and blurts out, “Where am I? Where do you guys come from?” They respond the way Jacob hopes they will… “We are from Haran.”
Fantastic! He had made it to the land of his mother's family! And Jacob begins to ask the shepherds about his uncle and family, but in the middle of the conversation,Laban's daughter, Rachel appears in on the horizon- and with her is a huge flock of sheep. (Huge flock of sheep means Uncle Laban is rich! ) And since Jacob’s 'MO' is security, he quickly hatches a plan to be alone with Rachel. He figures, charm the daughter, and get an easy "in" with Uncle Laban. So he says to the shepherds… “Hurry up, and water these sheep, and go… go pasture them.”
But the shepherds respond, “We can't! Not until all the flocks are gathered together, and then the stone is rolled from the mouth of the well; then we water the sheep.” (Curses! He hates waiting!)
As Rachel gets closer, however, Jacob's motivation to 'just get an easy "in"' with Uncle Laban fades. Rachel is so beautiful that Jacob is (literally translated from the text) knocked over… Rachel isn't just a rich girl, she's a pretty rich girl, and that’s about all Jacob need to know. He is hooked, line and sinker…and can hold back no longer!
And this next part reminds me of the scene from TheGrinch That Stole Christmas after his heart grew… Jacob moves the stone from the top of the well, the one that takes ALL the shepherds to move… by himself (HA)… and then he waters Rachel's sheep… (forget that he just offended the shepherds by ignoring their customs… this was love!) And then, like a gallant knight in shining armor, he takes Rachel’s hand and gently kisses it… and the text says that Jacob is so emotional at this point, he begins to cry.
Rachel is a bit flustered, but being a good kid, she runs home to tell Daddy all about it. And Rachel's daddy- Uncle Laban- runs out to meet Jacob- but instead of being upset, as a modern might expect, he hugs and kisses Jacob, family reunion stlye. And over the next few minutes (or hours), Jacob tells his Uncle Laban the whole story… the whole story... even how he swindled his brother out of his birthright for soup, and how he tricked his old Dad Isaac with the goatskin to get a blessing! What would you say if you were Uncle Laban? Well- hang on, because Laban- the king of manipulators himself, slaps his nephew on the back and says… (and this is straight from the text…)“Surely you are my bone and my flesh!” And he invites Jacob to stay in his house!
Now- if you have been paying attention for the last few weeks, you know enough about these two men that neither one of them does something for nothing… so at the end of a month, Laban comes to Jacob and says… "OK, tell me what you’re doing here… what do you really want?"
And Jacob spills the beans… “I want Rachel.” Rachel, as it turns out, is the younger daughter of Laban… her older sister's name was Leah. Rachel, (as we said,) hit the jackpot as far as looks are concerned. But Leah… well, not so much. She had this eye problem- soft eyes, or weak eyes… and we can take that to mean something literal about her eyes being a little funky, or it could mean that she had no spark- no personality. In any case, Rachel is the one Jacob has fallen for... and wants. And so he tells Laban… “I’ll work for you for the next 7 years if you give Rachel to me as my wife.”
And Laban says something about giving her to you instead of to someone else, and a handshake and a high five later, the deal is done.
So at the end of 7 years... (By the way, the author says that the seven years feels only like a few days to Jacob, because he was so in love with Rachel... Isn’t this a sweet love story?) So when the 7 years are up, Jacob goes to collect his pay. “Ok, Laban, I’ve done the time, now give me Rachel so we may commence with the consummating …” Laban agrees- and the wedding week is planned. (I say week, because the weddings then were not just a few hours on a Saturday. There was feasting and dancing and drinking... all most likely to excess… and the celebration lasted a week or even longer) During the wedding ceremony, the bride is heavily veiled, and after the reading of the marriage contract, the groom would take his cloak and wrap her in it, and then takes her into their version of the honeymoon suite, the marriage tent… and they would spend their first night together…(2)
Maybe it really was that dark… maybe she really was that veiled… maybe he really was that drunk… but the morning after, Jacob, in a warm fuzzy afterglow type of fog, rolls over to kiss his new wife- only to find that he has married... the ugly sister! There, lying next to him is Leah... all curled up and smiling in her sleep!
Understandably Jacob is furious! (Even though on some level, we who have watched Jacob all this time, kind of want to say “Hey! Finally!... that’s pay back.. the trickster got tricked- the duper got duped! What goes around comes around”)
And Jacob runs to Laban and says “What have you done? This is not what I bargained for… I wanted Rachel, I worked for Rachel, I’m in love with Rachel! You pulled the old bait and switch, and now I’m saddled with ugly!”
Laban doesn't blink... and calmly he said, “It’s not done that way in our culture- that we give the younger before the firstborn.”
Isn’t it ironic that birthright is the reason for the switch… By the way, the custom of taking the older daughter before the younger was the same for Jacob's people, but we know that honoring tradition was not at the top of Jacob’s priority list…
But crafty Uncle Laban doesn’t stop there. He provides yet another deal to the younger, less sophisticated manipulator... “Stay with Leah through the week … and then you get Rachel at the end... And I can do this you for the low, low price of… another seven years.”
Of course Laban has Jacob over a barrel; he played on his love for Rachel, unloaded both daughters and got another seven years of free labor…and Jacob did just as Laban knew he would- and by the end of the week, Jacob had Rachel too…
And you can read this (and analyze it) from a lot of different angles… how poor Leah must have felt being the one who daddy had to find a husband for- and trick him into marrying her…( I think at one time or another we have all felt like the ugly sister. ) Or how Rachel must have felt seeing her sister get the thing she wanted so badly… (I know we have all been there…)
But let's talk about Jacob. Jacob gets swept away when he sees something he wants; and he works for it, and is even patient right up until the wedding day. But then, the morning after, he wakes up with the ugly sister. Well, who among us hasn’t had that experience? Who among us, after wanting something so badly that we would do anything to get it, wakes up one day when the fog wears off and realizes, 'Hey, this isn’t what I bargained for. ' How many married people, sometime after the wedding, have woken up and said, “Really? I married her? Wait... no, this isn’t the person I married… my wife was beautiful… we never fought… she always did whatever I wanted to do”… Or the first time after the honeymoon when you look over at your guy sleeping on the couch with chips all over his sweatshirt, snoring away with the TV still blaring and the remote still in his hand, and you think, "Seriously?”
This type of thing happens in every relationship- married or not… when flaws in the other start to show for the first time, or you get hurt or disappointed… and you think to yourself, “who’s this ugly person?”
And not just relationships... it can happen even in that job you worked so hard to get; the upscale neighborhood you desired; the school you pushed to get into, the team you tried out for, even the church you go to… At some point,( and it doesn’t take long for most things) you wake up one day and think, this is not what I was expecting... not what I signed up for. And at first it can be a shock… “you mean, this job, this school … this church isn’t perfect either?”
And when this happens, Jacob, when your expectations for perfection aren't met... it’s easy to get mad and want to retreat back to the desert- and you can even feel like you got duped… It happens to all of us… And so my friends, next time it happens to you…here’s some great advice from Uncle Laban…
“Wait it out the week, and at the end, you’ll get Rachel too.” In other words, stick around for a while longer- Trust that it was God who has led you here, trust that God knows what God is doing... be faithful to where God has led you… to what you have been called to, to the vows you took, even if you can go back later and say, “I didn’t know all the facts.” Trust that this place that you are in right now could be exactly where God wants you, or has been leading you all along; trust that God is working right here, to bring about things you don’t even know about that are yet to come!.
Did you know that Jacob was to have 12 sons? 12! And Rachel gave birth to only 2 of them. Imagine the richness of life lost, (not to mention our loss of heritage) had Jacob walked away from Leah in a huff. Sometimes in the process of facing 'the morning after', you realize that 'Rachel'- the ideal- comes as a result of working things through and not leaving the table when you get disappointed, or when things aren't turning out as you expected, or when things get ugly. the day you wake up and decide to stop working on the it... the day you wake up and start making excuses about how it was too dark, or she was too veiled, or you were too drunk… that is the day that the relationship,starts to fail- and that is true with everything in your life if you are honest- your job, your school- your church.
There is no perfect person... right Leah? in fact, there is no perfect relationship. There is no perfect team, or school, or job… there is no perfect church… And when you recognize it, don't run away... Get through the morning after… Stay the week… You’ll get Rachel in the end… For a look at the entire Jacob Sermon Series, click here (1) Kass, Leon, MD, The Beginning of Wisdom, Reading Genesis, 2003- paraphrased (2) ibid