February 23, 2015.
Daily Reading: Genesis 28-31.
Background: Genesis 24-27.
Concepts and Connections.
1. Reaffirming the promise: Twice in this chapter is the promise that was given to Abraham and subsequently to Isaac reaffirmed through Jacob, once by his father and once in a dream from the Almighty. We can see the distinct lineage that God was using to bless the nations of the world though the coming Messiah, and it is interesting to note that Jacob was not the first born. We can see God’s sovereign choice in the matter, as re-articulated by the prophet Malachi and later echoed by Paul (see Malachi 1:2-3 and Romans 9:10-12). As we follow the progression of this promise, we continue to see that God is faithful in all and will see His word through to the end, even if it is after many generations. The promise began with Abraham (see Genesis 12:6-7) and was subsequently reaffirmed with his son Isaac (see Genesis 26:1-4), and then Isaac’s son Jacob as we see here. It would be in Jacob (who would later be called Israel) that we start to get the sense that the promise of making Abraham a great nation is starting to be fulfilled, as Jacob would have 12 sons. It is also with his 12 sons that we will see each of which be included in the blessing, as the 12 sons would go on to form the 12 tribes of Israel, God’s chosen people. When we study this passage, we can see that God does indeed have an overall plan, and that plan will be carried out. We can take great comfort in this notion, as we are God’s children today.
2. Choosing wives: Though it was somewhat of a way to get Jacob out of reach from his brother Esau (see Genesis 27 for an explanation of this), it is still notable to consider the notion that Isaac wanted Jacob to choose his wife from the kindred of Rebekah, who was related to Abraham. In chapter 26 and verses 34-35, we see that Esau had taken two wives of the Hittites, inhabitants of the land of Canaan, and that they had made life miserable for Isaac and Rebekah. Though we are not given a reason why, it is not unreasonable to assume it had something to do with then being Canaanite women who probably worshiped other gods besides the God of Abraham. Isaac tells Jacob to go into the land of Rebekah and find her brother Laban, just as he had been told by Abraham, and take a wife from his kindred. Thus he sent Jacob away. It is interesting to note that when Esau heard why Isaac had sent Jacob away, it seems that he wanted to gain some favor in the eyes of his father by going and taking another wife who was of the lineage of Abraham, specifically one of the daughters of Ishmael. This is how some of the descendants of Ishmael can be traced through Esau (also known as Edom). Though these events happened outside of our time and culture, there is a good lesson in this story about taking who you choose to marry very seriously, as it can have an enormous bearing, either positive or negative, on your path in life and your spirituality.
1. Love at first sight? Jacob travels back to the land of his mother’s kinsmen and just as he arrives, he finds some acquaintances of Laban, the man he’s looking for, and asks if they know him. They reply yes, and then Laban’s daughter comes out with Laban’s she (this is yet another good example of the providence of God). When Jacob looks at Rachel, it is probably one of the closest things to “love at first sight” that you are going to find in the bible. The story continues that Jacob works seven years for Laban in exchange for his daughter Rachel, but he is tricked and given Leah, Laban’s oldest daughter, instead and has to work seven more years in exchange for Rachel (though Rachel is given to him before Jacob starts his second set of seven years). But the years of work he served for Rachel seemed as but a day for the love that he had for her. It is interesting to note that there is really no example of “courting” given throughout scripture. Even in this case where Jacob severed seven years before being given his wife, the decision was made almost immediately after seeing Rachel. There certainly wasn’t any courting of Leah. Yet the marriages both worked out (though there was envy between the sisters, but this wasn’t due to a lack of courtship) and were blessed by God. The entire Israelite nation came from these marriages. “Courting” or “dating” as we know it today, though it is not necessarily wrong or a bad idea, did not seem to be necessary in biblical times. It was not necessary for a lasting marriage or even finding ultimate fulfillment. As we have seen with both Isaac and Jacob, choosing a mate was left much more into the hands of God than by “testing the waters,” so to speak. If we fully rely on God to guide our choice, He will not get it wrong.
2. Playing favorites: Why it truly was that Laban gave Jacob Leah first instead of Rachel is hard to say, though his answer was because of custom. However, if it were by custom, it would seem that Laban should have told Jacob this when the deal was struck. Regardless, both Leah and Rachel were given to Jacob as wives and Jacob played favorites. In his defense, Jacob never had the intention of marrying Leah, and this intention was likely well known. However, the fact that Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah would go on to cause problems in the house of Jacob, likely being passed down to their children. This is one of the reasons that polygamy was never the ideal plan of God, as in the beginning marriage was between one man and one woman (see Genesis 2:18-24). In relationships such as these, it is very likely that the man will pick a favorite, even if subtly so, and love the other less, which will take an emotional toll on those who would find themselves in the position of Leah. A general truth from this story can be taken that we should fight to avoid favorites amongst our family, going beyond the relationship of husband and wife, but with our children as well. Jealousy and envying will arise if we do not do so.
1. Bitter envy and competition: What might be a little hard for us in the culture and time we live in today to understand is why it was so important that women during this time period bear sons to their husbands. It was a sign of good favor from the Lord and they might have even saw it as their duty. Sons would carry on the name of their husband’s lineage, building their family legacy. Naturally, this was how Leah and Rachel played out their bitter envy and jealousy- who could have the most male children. It is interesting that the record says that the Lord say that Leah was hated and so he opened her womb while leaving Rachel barren. It is a common theme throughout the Old Testament that the Lord cares about the oppressed and those who are looked upon with contempt. When Rachel sees that Leah bears four boys for Jacob (each of which who are named in some way for the hope the Leah has that they will bring here favor in the eyes of Jacob), she gets angry at Jacob, and then gives him her servant to bear children for her, which she does. Leah sees this and does the same with her servant. The Leah “buys” her husband for a while with her sons mandrakes, and bears more sons. Then Rachel bears a child of her own. This is almost an exhausting story of back and forth between the two quarreling women, again showing why it was not God’s ideal plan for a man to have multiple wives as it will likely lead to trouble. Let us not get caught up in the jealousy and fighting that these two sisters did.
2. Living honestly and the blessing of the Lord: After the women were seemingly done with their competition of bearing children, Jacob asks Laban for him to send him away back to the country from whence he came. However, Laban didn’t seem to want him to leave just yet, and the two strike a deal about how Jacob will take his wages of the flock. Laban, however, tries to undercut Jacob in the deal, but to no avail as the Lord blesses Jacob in whatever he did, no matter how many times Laban changes the conditions of Jacob’s wages. In this case, Jacob was living honestly before Laban, but Laban was trying to cheat Jacob out of whatever he could. It should be noted that the Lord was with Jacob and blessed him as he lived honestly before Laban. It didn’t matter how Laban tried to thwart Jacob, the Lord always provided and Jacob was always blessed. Let us learn that if the Lord is on our side, we should not fear what man can do to us. The blessing of Jacob caused a growing tensions between Jacob and Laban, which leads into the actions of the next chapter.
1. Taking counsel: As tensions grow high between Jacob and Laban, Jacob sees that Laban could potentially do him harm and take his wives and possessions away by force. Jacob then decides to fleet from Laban, but what he does before he goes is quite interesting for this time period and culture. Jacob calls his two wives in to discuss with them what he is planning on doing, seemingly taking counsel with them. When he tells them what he wants to do and why he wants to do it, they affirm his position and tell him that they have no part in Laban their father and whatever he sees fit to do. As a good principle from this story, we should always take counsel with our close family members in any major decision that involves the whole family in some way. Though Jacob indeed would have had the final say in the matter, he still discussed it with his wives. We too should follow this lead in all of our life decisions. A group decision goes much more smoothly than someone who just decides what the family is going to do without discussion.
2. Reconciliation: To avoid conflict, Jacob flees from Laban secretly and there is a lot that goes on in this story. Rachel takes Laban’s household gods, Laban pursues Jacob, God tells Laban in a dream not to speak good or bad to Jacob, Laban accuses Jacob of stealing the gods, Jacob doesn’t know anything about the gods being stolen by Rachel so he says whoever Laban finds with the gods will die, Laban searches, Rachel becomes the first recorded woman to use “female issues” as an excuse not to get up, Jacob gets mad at Laban when he doesn’t find the gods, the two are exasperated and looking to blame the other for everything that has happened. What a mouthful! This story can almost make you tired just by reading it. But one of the most important and practical points for us comes at the end. In the end, the two men make a pact between each other with the Lord as their witness, that neither would do harm to the other. They both had finally said everything they needed to say and everything was out in the open. After a good dialog (though full of distress and vexation), both men were able to reach reconciliation and solve the tension between the two of them, or at least make a plan to get rid of it. The lesson here is that often just a good dose of open communication, where each side gets to express themselves fully and why they are upset, works to fix many problems. Too often is it the case that we keep our issues to ourselves (or worse talk about them with other people in the form of gossip) and do not effectively communicate with the person we have an issue with. Christ sets up a structure of nipping this problem in the bud when He sets for the principle of reconciliation with a brother (see Matthew 18:15-19). We are to first go to our brother with whom we have the fault, then take two or three witnesses if he does not listen, and finally take it before the church if all else fails. Often reconciliation will be achieved with the first step if done properly. Let us strive to love one another with an open heart and openly communicate with our brethren so as to quell problems when they are small.
Tomorrow’s Reading: Judges 11-16.
May the Lord bless you and keep you.