Pastor Sherry’s Message for July 26, 2020
Scripture: Gen 29:15-28
Have any of you watched the reality TV series, “Sister Wives?’’ I’ve not watched it nor am I recommending it. It apparently follows the lives of Kody Brown, his 4 wives, and their combined 18 children. They call themselves practitioners of “Plural Marriage,” better known to the rest of us as “Polygamy.” They claim they decided to film the show to explain their beliefs and to benefit their children—and to make some money! Some say it has demonstrated the friendship bonds of the wives; while others contend it exposes the jealousies and hurts one would expect in such an arrangement. It seems the first wife has infertility issues, and has had only one child. Wives #2 and #3 have had 6 children each. Wife #4 has three kids from a previous marriage and two now with Kody. Their unusual lifestyle makes me wonder if they are aware of today’s Old Testament lesson.
Genesis 29:15-28 was written about 4,000 years ago and concerns the patriarch, Jacob. In Genesis 25, you may remember that he talks his brother Esau into trading his birthright (the rights of his inheritance as the first born) for a pot of stew. This exposes Esau as impulsive, a man ruled by his fleshly appetites. It reveals that Esau had no regard for the Covenant Promises God had made with his Grandfather, Abraham or with his Father, Isaac. Esau is contemptuous of his spiritual inheritance. He is a non-believer, a man of little faith in God. And it demonstrates that the quiet homeboy, Jacob, was capable of setting an effective trap for his brother, the hunter. Perhaps Jacob was smarter that Esau? By Genesis 27, Jacob poses as his brother and deceives their now blind father, Isaac, into giving him his blessing as well. Their mother, Rebekah, collaborates in this deception. They demonstrate no respect for Isaac and no love for Esau. They also display no faith in God to provide a way to work out His own prophesy. Jacob gets his father’s blessing, but also his brother’s enmity. He has to flee the Land for his life (remember, Esau is an excellent hunter). His mother, it will turn out, will never see Jacob again.
Now, in Chapter 29, we find Jacob outside “the Land,” seeking a wife from among his Uncle Laben’s (Mother Rebekah’s brother) people. Jacob doesn’t yet know it, but he has entered God’s spiritual woodshed, and is about to be severely disciplined. He sees the beautiful Rachel at the well. Like his mother Rebekah, she was providing water for the flocks. Jacob sees her and it is love at first sight! Uncle Laben invites him into the extended family and offers to pay his for his work. Jacob offers to work for 7 years in exchange for a marriage to Rachel. Laben has many flocks of sheep, goats and cattle. He also has two daughters: Leah, the elder one, whose name means “COW,” and Rachel, the younger, whose name means “EWE.” Leah was said to have weak eyes. Her eyes may have been lovely and blue, but it appears she was otherwise unattractive. Rachel, on the other hand, was lovely in form and beautiful. Simply put, she was a knock-out!
Maybe Laben thought that someone else would offer for Leah in the meantime, but he makes the deal and Jacob works off his 7 year commitment. In fact, Scripture tells us (v.20), So Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her. (Jacob had fallen hard!)
The time for the marriage ceremony arrives and Jacob says, Give me my wife. My time is completed and I want to lie with her. Yikes! He’s pretty clear on what he wants, isn’t he?! Some commentators say he should have been more specific: He should have said, Give me Rachel. No one had offered for Leah in the interim, so wily Label gowns and veils her and stuffs her into the marital tent under the cover of night. We assume Jacob consummated the marriage, believing he had in his arms his heart’s desire, only to wake the next morning and discover Leah in Rachel’s place!
Let’s think for a moment about how each player in this drama may have felt: Laben was no doubt happy to have gotten his less desirable, elder daughter off his hands. But what about Leah? Did she sense ahead of time how Jacob might have blamed her? Did she love him? Had she hoped he could come to love her? Or was she mainly a pawn of her Father’s and ashamed of the duplicity? What about Rachel? This was to have been her wedding. Was she disappointed? Relieved? Jealous? Angry at her father? We don’t now. She may have perhaps been proud because Jacob immediately agreed to work another 7 years to gain her. What of Jacob? Was he disappointed? Aggrieved? Furious! Did he feel resentful and bitter toward Laban? Resentful and bitter toward Leah? Determined to marry Rachel whatever it took? Did he understand that God had allowed the trickster (him) to be tricked? It is after all no accident that the elder preceded the younger. It was also no accident that though he had stolen his brother’s birthright and blessing, he now had to work hard for 14 years to earn what he desired.
Ah, but the woodshed experienced didn’t end at the conclusion of 14 days and 2 marriage feasts: No, we see the impact of unrequited love and a lack of appreciation. Now we see the rivalry for Jacob’s love by the original “sister wives.” (The reality TV series has nothing on this story!) The Lord pities Leah because she is not loved. He blesses her with 4 sons: (1) Reuben–the Lord sees affliction. She says, (v.32) It is because the Lord has seen my misery. Surely my husband will love me now. (2) Simeon–the Lord hears. She explains (v.33), because the Lord heard that I am not loved, He gave me this one too. (3) Levi (the priestly tribe)–hope for attachment. Believing Jacob must surely come to love her now, she exclaims (v.34) Now at last my husband will become attached to me because I have borne him three sons. (4) Judah (the royal tribe)–Praise for the Lord! She then declared, (v.35) This time I will praise the Lord. It appears that 4 sons later, she has given up on Jacob to affirm her worth and has learned to trust the Lord more. She has become the truly more faith-filled wife.
Meanwhile, Rachel, the favored wife, is barren and envious of her sister. She blames Jacob, but he seems to have no problem impregnating her sister. So, like Grandmother Sarah, she gives her servant, Bilhah, to Jacob as a surrogate mother and 3rd wife. Bilhah proceeds to bear two sons: (5) Dan–God has vindicated. Rachel celebrates his birth by saying (30:6), God has vindicated me. He has listened to my pleas and given me a son. (6) Naphtali–a mighty struggle. Rachel exclaims, (v.8) I have had a great struggle with my sister and I have won. Leah appears to have perked up at this time, and re-enters the contest: She offers her servant woman, Zilpah, as surrogate wife #4 to Jacob—just as in the reality TV program. Zilpah bears two sons: (7) Gad–good fortune. Leah says (v.11), what a good fortune! (8) Asher–happy one. Again, Leah is delighted and says (v.13), How happy I am! The women will call me happy!
It’s the top of the 9th inning, and the score is Leah 4 sons +2 surrogates vs. Rachel’s 2 surrogates. Leah proceeds to bear two more sons and a daughter, Dinah: (9) Issachar–God has given me my reward; (10) Zebulon–God has endowed me with a good dowry. Having borne him 6 + 2 sons, Leah sadly asserts (v.20), This time my husband will treat me with honor because I have borne him 6 sons. By this point, God has taken pity on Rachel and opened her womb. She already has the two surrogate sons from Bilhah, but now actually bears (11) Joseph (his father’s favorite and the Old Testament character who most closely represents Jesus). His name means, May He add/increase. Rachel has just given birth and she is already looking forward to another son! She declares (v.24), God has taken away my disgrace. May the Lord add to me another son. He does allow her to conceive (12) Benjamin, but dies just after giving him birth. Jacob names him Son of my right hand.
Move ahead 20 years later, Jacob returns to “the Land,” with large flocks and 12 sons, but what has he learned (and what have we learned)?
- He has learned that God will not allow His people to secure His blessing through deceptive and manipulative means. What goes around comes around, or as Scripture puts it, we reap what we sow. If we treat others with deceit, someone will eventually deceive us. If we abandon others, we will in turn be abandoned. If we betray someone, we too will eventually be betrayed. I have seen it happen again and again.
- God’s plan for marriage is one man and one woman because “Plural Marriage” doesn’t work (See Leviticus 18:18). It leads to heartbreak. There is a real danger in thwarting human affection. Isaac’s and Rebekah’s favoritism; Jacob and Esau’s lack of love for each other; the sister wives’ jealous competition with each other; the enmity and jealousy between the sons of Leah and the sons of Rachel each result from unloving behavior and attitudes toward one another. This plural arrangement leads to jealous, unholy competition, and family discord. Jacob’ family is a train wreck! TCL or reality TV can spin it any way they want, but you will not convince me that Polygamy or “Plural Marriage” works. Truthfully, marriage is difficult enough with only one partner! Jacob’s family saga demonstrates that God’s plan is the best plan!
- Finally, the real message of grace here, though, is that God has mercy on the unloved wife and blesses her. He also eventually blesses the favored, but dishonored, beloved wife. Lastly, He redeems their duel by using the 12 sons to create the 12 tribes of Israel. Praise God we truly do serve a God who can and does redeem our messes.
©2020 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams