Marrying the Right Woman or Man
31. Now the LORD saw that Leah was unloved, and He opened her womb, but Rachel was barren.
Now, this is Ann Landers, and it's dated June 13, 2002, so it's right up-to-date.
“Dear Ann Landers, I have a small Chihuahua, Fluffy, and I love her dearly. Unfortunately, she is afraid of my boyfriend, Chip. Last summer, Chip and I were trying to put Fluffy outside, and he chased her under my bed; I told him to leave her alone, but he ignored me. He poked his head under the bed and dragged Fluffy out by the scruff of her neck. She snapped at him and he needed four stitches between his nose and lip. He now has a small scar that is covered by his moustache. Chip filed a claim against my homeowners insurance, and said he suffered permanent numbness. The insurance company settled for $11,000.00—imagine. When my renewal came up, they canceled my policy. I'm having trouble forgiving Chip for using me to make money. I told him we are through, but he insists we belong together. Who's right? Tampa, Florida.”
Oh, you’re wondering what the point is? That it's dangerous to come between two females.
Now, the two females in mind this evening are Rachel and Leah. Jacob was born into what we might call a dysfunctional family. His mother, Rebekah, had shown him favoritism over his twin brother, Esau. And Isaac, of course, had done the opposite. And, moreover, Jacob had swindled Esau's birthright, and Esau, as you can understand, harbored a grudge against him for the rest of his life; even to the extent of desiring to kill his brother. So, Jacob is on the run. Actually, he's been sent by his father to his uncle Laban. Laban is another Jacob. He's been sent to his uncle Laban, Rebekah's brother, partly because it's a good distance away from Esau, but partly in order that He might marry what would be one of his first cousins. On the way to Laban's place, Jacob has this extraordinary dream at a place which he would later call Bethel. It's a dream in which God reassures him of His presence and His continued covenantal faithfulness.
Eventually, as the opening verse of chapter 29 makes clear, he comes to the land of the People of the East, where his uncle Laban lives, and he stops by a well. There beside the well are three flocks of sheep. It's a large well and it's covered by a huge stone. He asks the shepherds where they are from and discovers they are from his Uncle Laban; they know him and just as they are talking, behold, Rachel comes into the picture. She is the pretty one, and she's coming to the well because she is a shepherdess. And Jacob is smitten, and it's love at first sight. If there is such a thing as love at first sight—and of course there is. Here's the example. Jacob and Rachel. He does the gallant thing and he moves the stone away for her and waters her sheep–Laban's sheep. And in verse 11 of Chapter 29, there's a kiss. Look at it (v. 29): “Jacob kissed Rachel.” It's a “Hi! Wonderful to meet you ‘cuz,” kind of kiss, I think. And she goes off to tell her father Laban, who in turn, runs to meet Jacob, and there's a warm embrace; and this is Laban's greeting of Jacob. Jacob is invited home; he's there for a month. He must have been working to some degree because his Uncle Laban begins to talk about wages. You understand working and Jacob were almost contradictory terms, so he must have been struck with Rachel in order that he was now working for Laban. And the bargain is struck. He will work for seven years in payment for the youngest daughter, Rachel. Sounds like a good deal. Seven years is a long time to do all sorts of things. Laban agrees and the time goes quickly for Jacob because of his love for Rachel.
And then catastrophe! It's the wedding night; it must have been dark, the bride is wearing a veil from head to toe, and Jacob marries whom he thinks to be Rachel. Chapter 29 verse 25: “So it came about in the morning that” (and there's this wonderful little Hebrew word) “and behold.” Actually the Hebrew word is more like–ah-h-h! It's not Rachel at all–it's Leah! I don't know. I know you’re asking the question. It must have been very dark. He must have been drunk. I don't know how it takes him until morning to discover that it was Leah, the ugly one–the one with bad eyes.
Jacob has met his match. Jacob the twister has met, in the providence of God, his Uncle Laban who is equally a twister. His chickens have come home to roost and now he is encumbered with this “dowdy one” with the bad eyes–she's the oldest. Oh, Laban makes some excuse that it was the custom that the oldest one should get married first and not the younger. He's had seven years to say so, but now the next morning, he's telling him this. Within a week he marries Rachel too, but has to work another seven years in order to pay for that marriage—and the plot thickens. Jacob loves Rachel more than he loves Leah.
Now polygamy, you understand, is a recipe for disaster as is any form of liaison other than marriage. Leah is trapped, as we might say, in a loveless marriage. Actually, it's interesting that Calvin should say, quoting from Malachi 2:14, “If by any means a wife is not loved by her husband it is better to repudiate her than that she should be retained as a captive and consumed with grief by the introduction of a second wife; therefore, the Lord by Malachi pronounces divorce to be more tolerable than polygamy.” Interesting.
Well, that's the story full of lessons for another occasion perhaps, but I want to pick up some of them here this evening. Jacob is the product of a dysfunctional family, and all kinds of implications result in this marriage because of that. Jacob favors Rachel more than he does Leah–and that's understandable–but worse, it was to show itself in the favoritism that was afforded to Joseph and Benjamin, Rachel's two sons. It left him with a blind spot.
Now, as I say, this is a perilous task to take this particular chapter and try and say there are some lessons in here for marriage. Practically everything that is going on in this chapter is saying, “Don't do this.” But let's try and tease out some lessons about marriage, about Christian marriage, and what it means to hold up a marriage in integrity and honor before God. The first thing I want you to see is this.
men and women distort God's design for marriage.
Let's take a look, shall we, at how messy some peoples’ lives can be. If I were to tell you that Leah means “cow,” and Rachel means “ewe,” as in sheep; now, that would probably prejudice you from the very start. Even though it is true. The father, you understand, is a shepherd and I imagine at that time, these were endearing ways to refer to your two daughters. I can't imagine it; but it must have been endearing then. Now, it says in verse 31 that Leah was unloved; actually, in some versions it says that she was hated in much the same way that Jesus says, “If anyone comes unto Me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters–and even his own life–he cannot be My disciple.” You understand, it's not that Jacob hated Leah, it's just that he loved Leah less than he did Rachel. Jacob had fallen in love with Rachel as soon as he had seen her.
Now, not everyone is a romantic. It's interesting that Calvin, in 1540, when he was in Strasbourg for three and one-half years, after being thrown out of Geneva, was urged by Luther and Farrell and others to marry. It was important, in the time of the Reformation, for the leaders to pronounce the dignity and solemnity and propriety of Christian marriage coming out of the celibacy of the priesthood in the medieval age. So Calvin was urged to marry, and he marries eventually, this widow–Idalette Deburr. But just before he gets married, he talks about what kind of wife he actually needs, and he says, “The only beauty which allures me is this: That she be chaste; and not too nice or fastidious, economical, patient, likely to take care of my health.” Calvin wasn't a romantic. As it happened, Idalette DeBurr was a widow and as it happened this was a wonderful marriage. It only lasted for nine years; she died in 1549 after giving birth to three children–all of these children died, too–but it was a very happy marriage. It was a wonderful marriage, and she could not have been a better wife for John Calvin.
Life had been tough for Leah. It's not easy being married to someone that you know doesn't love you. And there's the rub, isn't it? There's the solemnity; there's the seriousness in this passage. I imagine it touches home somewhere. It's not easy being married to somebody whom you suspect doesn't love you. She probably lived with the notion that she was unlikely ever to get married. I wouldn't be surprised–reading between the lines a little bit–I wouldn't be at all surprised if Laban, her father, had told her this on many occasions. What a terrible thing it is to show favoritism to your children. He obviously didn't think that Leah could get married—above and by this contrived notion. I imagine that Leah's self-esteem was shot.
Leah has one thing in her favor; she is fertile. And in the space of four verses, 31-35, she gives birth to four sons: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah. And you've got to admit that they are pretty important children. One of them will give birth to a race of priests, the priesthood of Levi. And one of them, Judah, will give birth to the line of Boaz and David, and eventually to Jesus Himself. What an extraordinary thing, that the line of Jesus–the earthly lineage of Jesus–goes back through Judah and Leah, the ugly one, the not-so-pretty one.
We’ll come back to that in a minute. But take a highlighter–if you’re wondering–well, that's where it's about to go. But look at the motives behind Leah's desire for children in verse 32: “Now my husband will love me.” Isn't that terribly sad? Can't you hear the desperation in her voice? That, somehow or other, having a son will make her husband love her. And then in verse 34, she repeats it again: “She conceived again and bore a son, and said, ‘Now this time my husband will become attached to me because I have borne him three sons.’” (Don't get your hopes up, Leah.) Now, when we come to chapter 30, Rachel and Jacob are having a fight–it's trash talk—it's a brouhaha between Jacob and Rachel. Rachel is miffed, understandably, because she hasn't got any children; and she's blaming Jacob, and Jacob is blaming her. Do couples ever quarrel? Of course they do; here's the example of it here.
So what does Rachel do? She resorts to the Bilhah technique by which two sons are born. Is this a dysfunctional family or what? What you have is envy, and rivalry, and suspicion—and they’re not the best ingredients for any relationship. Now Leah, who has stopped having children, resorts to the Zilpah procedure from which two more sons are born. Yes, this is in the Bible. There's a rather colorful description about mandrakes shaped like a plum; sometimes called “love apples” thought to have fertility powers. It was the fertility drug of four thousand years ago. Look at verse 16. Leah obviously keeps the calendar in this house, and she insists that the only way that Rachel is going to get these mandrakes is that Jacob sleeps with her.
Where are we going? Nowhere, except here. Is this a mess, or what? Be honest, does this not sound like cheap afternoon television? Have you ever watched afternoon daytime television? This is it. You couldn't write this story. You couldn't imagine a more sordid mess of a marriage and a home and a relationship than this one. Can we imagine what it was like to live in this family? Can you imagine the relationship between Leah and Rachel? Yes, perhaps some of you can. Another woman who has come into the picture, and you think you have problems.
What God can do in situations like this.
Let's take a look, in the second place, at what God can do in situations like this. Watch how God comes and watch how God comes to the downtrodden. Can God work in broken families? Can God work in less than ideal marriages, in marriages where there is strife and discord and trouble and resentment and frustration and anger and disappointment? Can work in families like that? Can God work in marriages like that?
Look at verse 31: “Leah was unloved and God saw it.” The Lord saw that Leah was unloved. There isn't a pain, there isn't a hurt, there isn't a difficulty, there isn't an obstacle–and we want this series to be practical. You know, next week we're going to talk of the ideal marriage–and it's not going to be Rosemary and me. I wish I could stand up here and say, “That's the ideal marriage.” I love her immensely, but that's not the ideal marriage. You know, the reality is that in the best of marriages, there are problems, and there are difficulties, and there are days when you have to sort through the mess, the baggage, the things that come into your marriage from the past, but somehow you just can't get rid of, like a closet that you've been telling yourself for years you’re going to sort out—and it's still a mess. And here's this wonderful, touching, moving thing—that God works in marriages that are a mess.
You know, this marriage was terrible. There's no way that you can tell me that this was an ideal home, or an ideal marriage, or an ideal situation, and yet, God is here; He sees and hears the cries of the downtrodden because that's the kind of God He is. Turning to the biographer, Andrew Morton's suggestion that Princess Diana was trapped in a loveless marriage. Whenever Prince Charles admitted on national television that he’d had an affair with Camilla Parker Bowles, Morton's claim that Princess Diana had been suffering from eating disorders and had attempted, on more than one occasion, to take away her life, became more believable. God can come into the most difficult and hopeless of circumstances and make His presence felt. If Leah had ever thought that she might gain Jacob's affection–you know the stage was set the morning after the wedding, when Jacob hit the roof of the tent after discovering that she wasn't Rachel, and having children, in the hope and expectation, that that would change him, was always doomed to failure as was the notion, young people, that I will marry this person determined that I am going to change them. That is never, ever a good motive for getting married. And for all of Leah's and Rachel's theologizing as to why they had been given children, the most believable are the ones, the motives, that God Himself tells us, that He hears their pain and He sees their cries and He remembers them in their grief. God listens–in this tawdry tale.
Actually, there are no prayers recorded here at all. Leah and Rachel are good at theologizing as to why they've had these sons, because God is doing this and God is showing that, and so on. Actually, all of their reasonings are probably questionable, that even here in the midst of this sorry and tawdry tale; God is present. I don't know about you, but I find that wonderfully, wonderfully reassuring.
I don't know where you are in your marriage. After five years, or ten years, or thirty years; I don't know what you are expecting out of this series–instant cures? No, you’re Presbyterians; you know there's no such thing. You know that there are days when there are difficulties. You know that there are things you have to sort out, and isn't it a wonderful thing to know that the God we worship can come into the most distressing and dysfunctional of situations and reveal His grace and reveal His mercy and show His tenderness and give days of joy, and give days of light, even in the midst of absolute darkness? I find that wonderfully reassuring.
What God is really doing in this chapter.
But in the third place, let's take a look at what God is really doing in this chapter? Because all of these stories, and this one too, is one of those building blocks in the story of God's redemption. This tawdry soap-opera of a tale is one of the building blocks in the fulfillment of Genesis 3:15, in the fulfillment of the promise that God made at the very dawn of time itself, that through the seed of a woman one would be born that would crush the very head of Satan. You know, what God is doing here is fulfilling a promise that He gave to Abraham, that Abraham would have a seed that would be as numerous as the stars of the night sky and the sand on the seashore. At the end of this chapter Jacob has eleven sons. There is one more to be born, and that's Benjamin, to Rachel. And in giving birth to Benjamin, Rachel herself will die. What a tale. The one that he loved the most will die and will be buried actually in a place other than where Jacob will be buried. Actually, it will be Leah that will be buried beside him and not Rachel. Is this bizarre, or what? And you think your life is complicated? You think your story is bizarre? You think you've got a tale to tell–you go and talk to Jacob. You go and talk to Rachel. You go and talk to Leah. You know that what God is really doing in this passage is fulfilling his promise. At the end of this chapter Jacob has eleven sons. All right, it's not the stars in the sky; it's not the sand on the seashore, but eleven is more than nothing. Already you can see the embers of that promise that God made to Abraham beginning to be fulfilled.
You know, this is not a passage to recommend multiple wives. That's not the point of this passage. God allowed this to happen, but as Paul would say, “it was not so from the beginning.” The circumstances here are not honored, but God works despite them. “God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform. He plants His footsteps in the sea, and rides upon the storm. Deep in unfathomable minds of never failing still, He treasures up His bright designs and works His sovereign will.”
This is all about God being faithful. In the midst of the unfaithfulness of men and women, in the midst of the plotting and scheming and conniving and rivalry of this passage, God is being faithful to His word; God is being faithful to His promise.
You know, if there's only one thing that you can take home with you tonight, recognize in this passage the signature of Almighty God so that you may recognize that signature in the providence of your own life. As God works in your marriage, as God works in your home, as God works in the difficulties that you face from day-to-day, and week-to-week, and month-to-month, recognize how God works in this passage and recognize it in your own life and in your own marriage. May God enable us to do so. Let's pray together. Amen.
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