Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | July 24, 2011

2011.07.24 “The Trickster, Tricked” – Genesis 29: 15 – 28

CENTRAL UNITED METHODIST CHURCH

“The Trickster, Tricked”

Pastor David L. Haley

Genesis 29: 15 – 28

July 24th, 2011

“When Jacob had been with him for a month, Laban said, “Just because you’re my nephew, you shouldn’t work for me for nothing. Tell me what you want to be paid. What’s a fair wage?”

Now Laban had two daughters; Leah was the older and Rachel the younger. Leah had nice eyes, but Rachel was stunningly beautiful. And it was Rachel that Jacob loved.

So Jacob answered, “I will work for you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.”

“It is far better,” said Laban, “that I give her to you than marry her to some outsider. Yes. Stay here with me.”

So Jacob worked seven years for Rachel. But it only seemed like a few days, he loved her so much.

Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife; I’ve completed what we agreed I’d do. I’m ready to consummate my marriage.” Laban invited everyone around and threw a big feast. At evening, though, he got his daughter Leah and brought her to the
marriage bed, and Jacob slept with her. (Laban gave his maid Zilpah to his daughter Leah as her maid.)

Morning came: There was Leah in the marriage bed!

Jacob confronted Laban, “What have you done to me? Didn’t I work all this time for the hand of Rachel? Why did you cheat me?”

“We don’t do it that way in our country,” said Laban. “We don’t marry off the younger daughter before the older. Enjoy your week of honeymoon, and then we’ll give you the other one also. But it will cost you another seven years of work.”

Jacob agreed. When he’d completed the honeymoon week, Laban gave him his daughter Rachel to be his wife.”  –

Genesis 29: 15 – 28, The Message, by
Eugene H. Peterson

Among the stories we most love to hear are our family stories, part of the larger story of how we came to be.  Genealogy and ancestry may be interesting, but often they only supply the names, and the full story – the music that connects the notes, if you will – gets lost.  It is often those stories that are the most interesting.

For example, have you ever asked this question of your parents or grandparents: “How did you two meet.” The story is almost always fascinating. In some cases, so much so that a blockbuster movie could be made of it; think, for example of James Cameron’s Titanic.

In some cases, the stories are funny. I remember once asking the wife of a retired military man this question.  She said she was dancing at a USO dance, with a potato on her head.  In spite of that, a young man asked her to dance.  The rest was history.

In some cases, the stories are heartbreaking, humiliating, even infuriating. White Americans, for example,
sometimes cannot understand African American or Native American anger.  But what if, when you asked this question, you learned the story of how your grandmother was sold or raped or taken against her will by her white master, whose name might even have been Thomas Jefferson. Or as a Native American, you learned how your grandparents were taken to a white school and “Christianized”, forbidden to use their native name or language or culture or have contact with their family, your family.

And yet, of such things, both good and bad, are our stories made.  They not only tell us, but make us who we are.

Today, we continue the story of faith, the story of the patriarchs and matriarchs of the Old Testament. There are really two levels: the larger story is how the descendants of Abraham and Sarah became the people of promise, through whom God would bless the earth.  The part of that story that we hear today is how it was continued in Jacob, the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham.  It’s the story we might hear if we were to ask Jacob:  “So how did you and grandma meet?”

Previously, we have seen how Jacob, a trickster from birth, cheated his older brother Esau of his birthright and his father’s blessing.
Because Esau threatened to kill him on sight, Jacob is on the run, back to his mother Rebekah’s country and people.
On the way, he has a dream in which God tells him, wildly undeserving though he is, that he will be the heir of God’s promise to Abraham.  But in order to do that, Jacob needs a wife.

As Jacob arrives near his mother’s home, he sees sheep and a well, which is covered with a giant stone. Conversation reveals them to be his people, and that he is not far from where his uncle Laban lives.

Just then, Laban’s daughter Rachel approaches, with a large flock of sheep. Given the kind of guy Jacob is, it’s not clear if he’s more impressed by how many sheep she owns or by Rachel, who, as Eugene Peterson translates it, was “stunningly beautiful.” Jacob got so excited he lifted the stone off the well singlehandedly, which usually took all the shepherds to accomplish. Or maybe he was just showing off.  (Watch this!)

I found a picture of Rachel, who’s name, by the way, means “Ewe,” as in sheep.  Here’s what she looked like.  Just kidding, there are obviously no pictures of Rachel, but let it serve as a reminder that we’re not talking about the usual Sunday School version here, no Olivia DeHavilland for the older generation or Mila Kunis for the current one.

But this picture may also highlight something else.  Rachel has an older sister named Leah. I’m not sure what the story’s trying to tell us, but her name means “Cow.” And there’s something about her eyes; the Hebrew text is unclear, what it literally says is that they were tender.  It’s not clear if that means lovely, or weak, or crossed, or blue; that’s why you’ll find completely opposite translations in different versions. But perhaps this picture may explain why “eyes” were significant.

Rachel takes Jacob home to meet Dad, and – nice guy that Uncle Laban is – he offers Jacob a job.  About a month goes by, in
which Jacob gets tired of walking into tent poles while staring at Rachel, and so he proposes to Laban: “I will work for you for seven years for your youngest daughter Rachel.” You can tell how thrilled he is with Jacob when he says, “Why not?”  “Better you than some outsider.”

It’s at this point that we should acknowledge that this might not be a story, even if it’s in the Bible, that we do not want our daughters (or our sons, for that matter), to hear without explanation.

It was not a culture of romantic love or women’s rights, as most of the history of the human race has not been. Women were the property of men, traded off for power, property, and even livestock.  At that time and place, polygamy was the norm. (Be careful when you say you want a Biblical marriage; if so you might want to consider Mormonism rather than Methodism.)  Women had little or no say, although, as in most
cultures, I suspect they had their ways.  What it meant was they had to learn to love the people they married, as opposed to marrying the people they loved. It’s not that novel a concept; apart from western culture much of the world still practices it today.

Second important thing to remember is that the story is told from an male perspective, written by and for men. The story we hear is not the story as Rachel or Leah might have told it.  My guess is that would be pretty interesting reading, and not just for women.

All of this only goes to underline the importance of Biblical interpretation: all the Bible, and all the Bible teaches, must be interpreted in regard to its historical and cultural setting. A story by and about sheepherders doesn’t hold up so well in 21st century
society.  I like to put it this way: if you are flying on an airliner, would you prefer the pilot has 1st century maps, or 21st century?
Consider the possibilities of this story alone: Polygamy? The bartering of women?  Deceit as a means of doing God’s will? It highlights the necessity of interpretation.

But back to the story.  Seven years pass quickly for Jacob, because, as the story says, “He loved Rachel so much it only seemed like a few days.” Finally the wedding day arrived, and after a couple days of feasting and drinking, he and who he thought was Rachel wound up alone in a tent in the dark.  Did I mention there was drinking involved, which may help explain what happened next.

The morning after becomes one of those “What the . . . “ moments, when the veil came off or the booze wore off or the sun came up, and to Jacob’s surprise – it’s not Rachel the ewe, but Leah the cow. Uncle Laban had pulled a “bait-and-switch.”  Whether Rachel and Leah were cooperative or not, who knows?

At this point hearers of every age might want to say, “O please?”  Seven years of sight, of voice, of smell, and Jacob was so deceived?  Just try that one on your spouse: “But I thought it was you!”

The ironies are delicious. Just as Jacob had cheated his brother Esau, now he is cheated.  (O yeah, he can dish it out, but he can’t take it!)  Just as he had deceived his father through touch and swell (wearing a goat skin to feel like Esau), now Jacob too is deceived despite touch and smell.

Must have been quite an interruption in Laban’s breakfast, when Jacob came storming in.  After some yelling, they were able to work out a deal, unlike the Republicans and Democrats. At the low, low price of seven years labor, available only today, Jacob could also have Rachel, the one he wanted in the first place.  Jacob agreed, so now he would have two wives, with a couple handmaids thrown in. And you think The Bachelor or Desperate Housewives is interesting.

Go home and read the next couple chapters, starting with this one, to find out how it all turns out.  I think you finally decide that cheating and lying is a genetic predisposition in the whole family.  The narrator, writing from a moral perspective, says that because poor Leah is unloved, God smiles on her, and she becomes fertile, bearing Jacob six children. Rachel, Jacob’s beloved, on the other hand, is barren. God hears her prayers, and she finally bears Jacob’s favorite, the child of promise, Joseph. In tragic irony, after praying for so long to become pregnant, Rachel dies in childbirth while bearing Benjamin. She was buried by Jacob on the road just outside Bethlehem, where her tomb is still visited by tens of thousands of visitors each year.

What I find interesting is this:
Later in Genesis 49: 29 – 32, just before Jacob dies, he instructs Joseph to bury him in the cave of Machpelah, along with Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, alongside (guess who?) Leah.  So who loved who?

So what do we learn from this ancient sheep herder’s soap opera, which is the story of our ancestors in faith, and specifically this story about
Jacob, Rachel, and Leah?  Two things, at least.

First is, some have noted that Jacob was not the first nor the last to look into someone’s eyes and wake up to the sudden realization that
this is not the person I married, or that I thought I married. M. Craig Barnes, in a sermon on Day 1 in 2008, noted that whoever it is you love, that person is both Leah and Rachel.

“You may love one more than the other, but they are wrapped into the same person. Rachel is the one you love, and you’re sure that she will be the blessing to your life. But you can’t have Rachel without taking Leah, who you don’t love and you didn’t think you were getting. Not long after you are together, you discover you didn’t get just Rachel. You’re also very involved with Leah, and you can work for years trying to turn her into Rachel . . . . This tension between the love you have and the love you want is as hard for women as it is men. For all we know, Leah could have preferred Esau . . . . but her father stuck her with Jacob.”

And then M. Craig Barnes says this:

“Falling in love is not a matter of the will. It is something that just happens to you. You don’t choose to fall in love. But you certainly do have to make choices if you are going to stay in love after you realize that you’re involved with a human being. It’s pretty hard to make yourself love someone. That is especially true if it is someone who is not who you thought, someone who has disappointed you or hurt you.” (M. Craig Barnes, Day 1, July 27, 2008)

Bet that’s a lesson we’ve all learned the hard way.  But it seems like Jacob and Rachel and Leah made that work.  With God’s help, maybe
we can too.

Second thing we learn is perhaps the greatest lesson. Like the Biblical patriarchs and matriarchs, we too are of impure motives and pedigree, with capacities for both good and evil. Yet, even when we are not always able to discern it, it is exactly in this stuff of our daily lives, in our family and our work, in our loves and in our choices, that God’s will gets worked out. Clearly, horrible things happen, and people get hurt, sometimes others, sometimes us. And yet, our hope is this: in the larger picture, God is watching over us, and that maybe farther down the
road than we can see, we pray it will work out for good. If we had read the Epistle today, from Paul’s Letter to the Romans, chapter 8, we would have heard the way Paul put it: “That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of
love for God is worked into something good.”  And so may it be, even from the bad things that happen.

Little did any of the characters in this story know, not Jacob, not Rachel, not Leah, that from their lives and as part of their blessing to the world, would come one many centuries later, who would sit at this same Jacob’s well, and treat another abused woman with dignity and respect.  She would say of him, “Come see a man who knew all about the things I did, who knows me inside and out. Do you think this could be the Messiah?”  By him, Jesus the Christ, both our world and we ourselves have been blessed.

Thankyou, Jacob. Thank you, Rachel. Thank you, Leah. Thank you, Jesus.

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