Last week, we visited Jacob on the road to Haran. He was fleeing to the home of his mother’s brother Laban. On the way, he stopped at the place that would be called Bethel and had a dream…in Jacob’s dream, God reiterated that Jacob would be the inheritor of the Covenant God had made with Abraham and Isaac. Jacob would be the ancestor of many nations of people and would be the conduit through which God would build a relationship with God’s followers.
You may recall – Jacob was not always the most ethical of people. He tricked his brother out of the special blessing he was to receive from their father, Isaac. Esau would have technically been the person through which the covenant with God would have continued, but Jacob tricked Esau out of that privilege. In this week’s reading, Jacob is the one who is the victim of trickery – what goes around comes around. Listen to how the story unfolded as we read from Genesis Chapter 29, verses fifteen through twenty-eight:
Proclamation of the Scripture Genesis 29: 15-28
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.”
Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel.
Leah had weak eyes, but Rachel had a lovely figure and was beautiful.
Jacob was in love with Rachel and said, “I’ll work for you seven years in return for your younger daughter Rachel.”
Laban said, “It’s better that I give her to you than to some other man. Stay here with me.”
So Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her.
Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife. My time is completed, and I want to make love to her.”
So Laban brought together all the people of the place and gave a feast.
But when evening came, he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob, and Jacob made love to her.
And Laban gave his servant Zilpah to his daughter as her attendant.
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?”
Laban replied, “It is not our custom here to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older one.
Finish this daughter’s bridal week; then we will give you the younger one also, in return for another seven years of work.”
And Jacob did so. He finished the week with Leah, and then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel to be his wife.
Here ends this reading of the word of God for the people of God; Thanks be to God. Amen.
Let us pray: God of mercy, you promised never to break your covenant with us. Amid all the changing words of our generation, speak your eternal Word that does not change. Then may we respond to your gracious promises with faithful and obedient lives; through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Message Weaving the Future
This morning, in our scripture reading, Jacob got his “just deserts.” He had colluded with his mother to successfully take over his brother’s rightful inheritance. When he ran away in fear of his brother’s wrath, he learned that our gracious God was still going to extend the Covenant to him, to Jacob, despite his flaws. This was the good news. And, then Jacob went to the home of his uncle Laban…and there things got murky for Jacob…his winning streak was foiled.
Laban, like Abraham and Isaac, was a shepherd. His family followed the sheep as they moved from grazing land to grazing land. It was a harsh life. When Jacob came to Haran and to live with his uncle’s family, he agreed to work for seven years to earn the right to marry Rachel, the cousin he was enamored with. But, on the night of the wedding, after the seven years of work, Laban placed Leah in the tent. Somehow, Jacob and Leah had marital relations before Jacob noticed the switch-a-roo. We don’t know why Jacob didn’t notice the women had been swapped – was he too excited to look at the face of the woman? Was he drunk? Was he exhausted by the wedding festivities? This question of how Jacob failed to notice the difference has been asked for more than 4000 years…I guess we will never know.
Jacob married the wrong woman. And the next day, he had words with his uncle/father-in-law about the switch. Laban agreed to allow him to also marry Rachel, but Jacob had to sleep for Leah for a week first. Sigh.
This is not how we do things in our culture. These events also expose some of the flaws in how they did things in their culture: Women were property. Their fathers used them as bargaining chips. And, families had very different rules about incest than we have now. We do things differently.
Things worked out ok for Jacob for a while. He had two wives and they brought 2 concubines into the marriage. Jacob had relations with 4 women. He ended up with many offspring which eventually included 12 sons and a daughter. We have probably all watched tv shows with this kind of arrangement, and things are complicated. For Jacob’s family, relationships were not harmonious among all of the wives and children. The wives were jealous of each other. Rachel had trouble conceiving children. She eventually had Joseph and Benjamin. The sons of all the wives were exceedingly jealous of each other. Some of them weren’t nice to their sister either. It became a pretty tense situation. Laban continued to try to trick Jacob into working for free. Eventually, Jacob made an agreement with Laban to take a portion of the sheep and return to his homeland. But, Laban changed his mind at the last minute and chased after Jacob and his family. They barely escaped. And, even when they went to the land promised to Abraham, things didn’t always work out well.
Jacob and his family had a lot of colorful adventures and mishaps. They were not always well-behaved or kind. Instead, they perhaps point to the reality that God loves us even when we are not good at following God’s commandments.
Jacob went from being a lonely man running away from his angry brother to being the husband and father of many people. He would never be lonely again. And, although Laban was not necessarily kind to Jacob, he helped Jacob have a job, a place to live, and a family.
The story of Jacob’s life contains many ironies. Jacob tricked his father Isaac – he took advantage of his father’s vision impairment to pretend to be his brother and receive the blessing and inheritance reserved for the first born son. Then, his uncle Laban tricked him – he took advantage of Jacob’s vision impairment in the darkened tent to substitute his older daughter for his younger daughter. Jacob unintentionally married the wrong woman, who was very fertile and is able to bear many children, and his chosen woman struggled with fertility and was only able to have two children – and died when the second son was born. Jacob overtly favors the sons of Rachel, which trigged his other sons’ jealousy and results in them pretending to kill off her older son, Joseph. Jacob’s preference for his wives and sons mirrored the preferences his parents had for their children – leading to broken relationships, jealousy, and nearly murder among the children. Almost everyone in the family is negatively affected by the consequences of Jacob’s sins.
This is one of the soap-opera-tic stories of the Old Testament that is entertaining to read but was not entertaining to live. The people in this story experienced many harrowing consequences because of their sins. Yet, there is still hope in the midst of their pain. God loved them and fulfilled God’s promises to them – God had promised Jacob that his descendants would be as many as the dust in the desert – we are all descendants of Jacob’s and inheritors of the Covenant. We are now able to be in relationship with God, who loves us despite our flaws, just as God loved Jacob despite his flaws. I hope none of us have been as flawed as Jacob, but we all have made countless mistakes, and God loves us and supports us anyway. We all can do better – over time Jacob did better – we all can seek to do a better job of being compassionate, loving towards others, and less-selfish. God pays attention to us and appreciates when we make good choices. God also carries us through the difficult times of our lives.
The story of Jacob is like a master lesson in learning about how sinful behavior backfires. It is our work to do better. And, it is also our blessing to know that despite our personal flaws, God loves us and roots for us.