By Dr. Mark Scott
Proverbs 13:12 says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life” (English Standard Version). Who has not known the agony of waiting? Waiting seems like forever. But a laser focus on a strong goal helps us endure any delay. That is what Jacob found out in our text.
We start the new year in Genesis with the Jacob narrative. Jacob is the third patriarch (following Abraham and Isaac). Due to a chronic problem with deception, Jacob found himself estranged from his parents, Isaac and Rebekah, and alienated from his brother, Esau. He was staying in Haran with his mother’s brother, who was Jacob’s equal in trickery.
Define the Relationship
Laban wanted to define his relationship with Jacob, and Jacob wanted to define his relationship with Rachel. Laban went first. “Tell me what your wages should be.” Because Jacob had to “get out of Dodge” (Beersheba) hurriedly, he had left home with next to nothing. His only bargaining chip was work. But Laban had something Jacob desired: “I’ll work for you seven years in return for your youngest daughter Rachel.” Laban was delighted and signed on the dotted line.
Rachel had more than caught Jacob’s eye. Rachel was described as having a lovely figure and was beautiful. Jacob was smitten. Jacob was in love with Rachel. One of the most romantic verses in the Bible says, So Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her.
There was one problem though for the relationship between Jacob and Rachel to be defined. That problem was Rachel’s older sister, Leah. She had not yet married (a cultural issue) and she had an eye problem (a physical issue). Her eyes were weak. The word could mean delicate or soft. But the word could also mean runny or droopy. The contrast in verse 17 makes one think the latter.
Make Me a Match
In the play “Fiddler on the Roof,” the role of the matchmaker is prominent. The little Jewish woman named Yenta tries to find matches for Tevya’s daughters. The girls end up marrying other men instead of the ones selected by the matchmaker. Something similar happens in our text.
Jacob served seven years for Rachel. He was ready to consummate the marriage (v. 21). Laban’s family sent out “save the date” cards and prepared for the big day. The wedding came, the entire village showed up, and the feast was no doubt elaborate.
But Laban deceived the deceiver. Laban took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob, and Jacob made love to her. In an additional cultural act, Laban gave Leah’s attendant, Zilpah, to Jacob as well.
One can appreciate the shocking phrase, When morning came, there was Leah. Why would Jacob not have known? We have our guesses, but we don’t truly know how her identity was hidden. All we know is that Jacob was tricked.
The Webs We Weave
From Walter Scott’s poem Marmion comes the famous line, “Oh, what a tangled web we weave, When first we practise to deceive!” Similar words must have echoed in Jacob’s conscience, “Why have you deceived me?” Laban had deceived Jacob, but Laban dismissed it due to culture and made a new arrangement with Jacob—an additional seven years of work.
Jacob complied. He fulfilled the bridal week with Leah, took Rachel as his wife, and began the next seven years of work. He also received Bilhah, Rachel’s attendant. What goes around comes around. What a man sows that will he also reap (Galatians 6:7).
Regardless of all the bizarre circumstances in this story (and how morally compromised it makes us feel), Jacob really loved Rachel and thought she was worth waiting for—this is the first level of understanding the story. Jacob had his name changed from deceiver to striver (Israel) and became the head of the Israelite nation—this is the second level of understanding the story. Finally, Leah, who did not feel loved, ended up bearing Judah from whom Jesus descended. And Jesus also thinks there is a bride still worth waiting for.
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College and has held preaching ministries in Missouri, Illinois, and Colorado.
Based on International Sunday School Lesson, © 2012, by the Lesson Committee. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.