THE LABOR OF LOVE (GENESIS 29:9-35)
One of the best quotes on love I know of comes from Liz Carpenter. She said, “Love is a moment and a lifetime. It is looking at him across a room and feeling that if I don’t send the rest of my life with him, I’ll have missed the boat.”
More than 66% of adults believe that every person has a perfect match, the perfect Mr. or Ms. Right. The most optimistic groups are those from 18-24 and from 25-34. 85% of those below 25 believe the perfect mate is out there waiting for him or her and a high 71% of those in the 25-34 bracket agrees that there is someone out there who matches him or her perfectly.
For those who have been fully impacted by the middle age crisis, the 35-44 age group, the romantic notion dips to 60%. However, it regains momentum in the next two age brackets – 67% of those between 45-54 and 63% among those 55-64 still maintain there is a perfect match for every man and woman.
Everything is downhill when you are over 64. Still, 60% of those 65-74 believes in the perfect match theory but only 53% of those over 75 believe so. (“Is there a Mr. or Ms. Perfect?” USA Today 2/14/95)
One of the most bizarre and fascinating but also the most admirable romance in the Bible is the love of Jacob for his wife Rachel. It is a marriage that triumphed in spite of the odds stacked against it. For all his faults, Jacob survived his meddling in-laws, an unexpected third party and the infamous seven-year itch. Most people can only sigh at the depth and the determination of Jacob’s unconditional love for Rachel.
So what is love? Is it an aphrodisiac? Is it magic? Is it an obsession? Is it dependable or is it merely desire? What helps love and what hinders it?
Love is a Conduct, Not a Conquest
9 While he was still talking with them, Rachel came with her father’s sheep, for she was a shepherdess. 10 When Jacob saw Rachel daughter of Laban, his mother’s brother, and Laban’s sheep, he went over and rolled the stone away from the mouth of the well and watered his uncle’s sheep. 11 Then Jacob kissed Rachel and began to weep aloud. 12 He had told Rachel that he was a relative of her father and a son of Rebekah. So she ran and told her father. 13 As soon as Laban heard the news about Jacob, his sister’s son, he hurried to meet him. He embraced him and kissed him and brought him to his home, and there Jacob told him all these things. 14 Then Laban said to him, “You are my own flesh and blood.” After Jacob had stayed with him for a whole month, 15 Laban said to him, “Just because you are a relative of mine, should you work for me for nothing? Tell me what your wages should be.” (Gen 29:9-15)
A nice girl brings home her fiancé to meet her parents. After dinner, her mother tells her father to find out about the young man. He invites the fiancé to his study for a chat. “So, what are your plans?” the father asks the fiancé. “I am a biblical scholar,” he replies.
“A biblical scholar. Admirable, but what will you do to provide a nice house for my daughter to live in, as she’s accustomed to?” “I will study,” the young man replies, “...and God will provide for us.”
“And how will you buy her a beautiful engagement ring, such as she deserves?”
“I will concentrate on my studies, God will provide for us.”
“And children? How will you support children?” “Don’t worry, sir, God will provide.”
The conversation proceeds like this, and each time the father questions, the fiancé insists that God will provide. Later, the mother asks, “So? How did it go?” “He has no job and no plans, but the good news is he thinks I’m God.”
Love is a powerful stimulant for change, but it is not a permanent prescription for change. Falling in love doesn’t pay the bills of a debtor, do the homework of a procrastinator or break the chokehold of a habit. No love potion can remedy a spineless, boneless or clueless person. However, love will always lend a helping hand, to inspire and change a willing and motivated person.
The education of Jacob began when he changed from lazy bum and life support to hard worker. Before this incident, Jacob was the little emperor at home in Canaan. He came from money even if had yet to get any, but he really didn’t have much of a life outside of the home nor did he have to lift a finger at home; so he was the little brat who became the master of the house, spending his time picking on, toying with and scoring against his no-brainer of a brother, Esau. His brother’s vow to kill him (Gen 27:41) when Jacob deceived him of his birthright forced him to leave home and sent him hurtling across the desert to his mother’s ancestral homeland, where he found a different and uneven kind of match in his uncle Laban, who is the brother of Jacob’s mother (Gen 27:43). Jacob the smooth-skin (Gen 27:11), homely Mama’s boy grew of age without home, money and security in his new environment.
Jacob’s usefulness and breakthrough began day one in the desert. He had good influence around him and a powerful working model – Rachel, and he had better shape up because Rachel was no slouch! Rachel was a shepherdess, a good and responsible one to be able to keep her job in the company of men. Rachel proved herself as the eyes, the voice and the guide of the sheep under her care. She was not the type to stay at home, see the shepherds off, and leave the job to men.
Jacob discovered the value of hard work, and it was never late. He transitioned from boy to man when he showed a sense of accomplishment, a stomach for responsibility and a direction in life. Jacob, who had everything done for him by Mama, began to do something for himself and for others (v 10) – he rolled the stone away from the mouth of the well and watered his uncle’s sheep. Jacob knew that Mama would tolerate him as a freeloader, but potential in-laws would not. When he stayed with his uncle, he worked hard for his meals, room and board. He did not stop working from day one and even worked for nothing for a whole month. Work was a virtue and never a torture with Rachel by his side. His work ethic was second to none, his learning knew no bounds and his relationship with others improved by leaps and bounds.
Love is a Commitment, Not a Ceremony
16 Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. 17 Leah had weak eyes, but Rachel was lovely in form, and beautiful. 18 Jacob was in love with Rachel and said, “I’ll work for you seven years in return for your younger daughter Rachel.” 19 Laban said, “It’s better that I give her to you than to some other man. Stay here with me.” 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. 21 Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife. My time is completed, and I want to lie with her.” 22 So Laban brought together all the people of the place and gave a feast. 23 But when evening came, he took his daughter Leah and gave her to Jacob, and Jacob lay with her. 24 And Laban gave his servant girl Zilpah to his daughter as her maidservant. 25 When morning came, there was Leah! So Jacob said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? I served you for Rachel, didn’t I? Why have you deceived me?” 26 Laban replied, “It is not our custom here to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older one. 27 Finish this daughter’s bridal week; then we will give you the younger one also, in return for another seven years of work.” 28 And Jacob did so. He finished the week with Leah, and then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel to be his wife. 29 Laban gave his servant girl Bilhah to his daughter Rachel as her maidservant. 30 Jacob lay with Rachel also, and he loved Rachel more than Leah. And he worked for Laban another seven years. (Gen 29:16-30)
Commitment means faithfulness of spouses to each other. It’s been said of the difference between love and marriage:
“Love is holding hands in the street,
Marriage is holding arguments in the street.
Love is dinner for 2 in your favorite restaurant,
Marriage is a Chinese take-out.
Love is cuddling on a sofa,
Marriage is deciding on a sofa,
Love is talking about having children,
Marriage is talking about getting away from children.
Love is going to bed early,
Marriage is going to sleep early.
Love is a romantic drive,
Marriage is a tarmac drive.
Love is losing your appetite,
Marriage is losing your figure.
Love is sweet nothing in the ear,
Marriage is sweet nothing in the bank.
Love is a flickering flame,
Marriage is a flickering television.
Love is 1 drink and 2 straws,
Marriage is “Don’t you think you’ve had enough!”
Jacob’s commitment to Rachel passed the test of time, errors and in-laws. Rachel the shepherdess was a unique woman. Inspiring the rich and spoilt Jacob to work was a goal, a test and a miracle, which Jacob passed with flying colors. He had superhuman commitment to Rachel. Working for the right of her hand in marriage was a joy, never a torture, to him. No dowry was too much to pay, no labor was too hard to endure and no duration was too long to wait. Jacob loved Rachel so much that he got on with his father-in-law, positioned himself as potential son-in-law and married himself into her family.
Rachel was beautiful (v 17). Not only was she one of the famed seven “beautiful” ladies in the Bible, along with Sarai (Gen 12:11), Rachel (Gen 29:17), Abigail (1 Sam 25:3), two Tamars (2 Sam 13:1, 14:27), Abishag (1 Kings 1:4) and Esther (Est 2:7), she was the only one qualified as “beautiful and beautiful” in Hebrew. None of the seven beauties was praised as such. The Hebrew text describes her as “Beautiful figure, beautiful appearance.” In other words, she was shapely and striking, body-beautiful and picture perfect.
However, Jacob’s devotion to Rachel was not skin-deep. The next verse, verse 18, tells us that it was not Rachel’s fabulous body or photogenic face that Jacob loved; it was the person. The word “love” occurs three times in the chapter (vv 18, 20, 30). Lust and infatuation could only last so long. Working seven years for a bride is comparable to paying a house for dowry. In today’s permissive society, even seven days or seven months is too long a wait to cohabit together for many men and women! Jacob loved Rachel in true sweeping romance fashion. The seven years were not an itch but a flash, not an eternity but an opportunity, not a chore but a climax. He was truly, madly, deeply in love with Rachel. Seven years was a steep price to pay, but he was the one who volunteered and mentioned it (v 18); Laban did not force him.
Jacob was not to blame for the latest mess. His conniving and controlling father-in-law Laban put him into this impossible and unbelievable situation. Poor Jacob. He couldn’t undo what he had done on the wedding night and he could not leave town without his beloved Rachel. When confronted with three questions, the wily old fox of a father-in-law said basically, “Not in my backyard,” “Not in your dreams,” “No such bargain,” “Not so fast” and “Not so cheap.” The word “deceive” – used for the first time in the Bible - has the connotation of “betray,” different from the earlier word “deceive” or “craft” used for Jacob’s deception (Gen 27:35, 36).
Love is a Couple, Not a Crowd
25 When morning came, there was Leah! So Jacob said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? I served you for Rachel, didn’t I? Why have you deceived me?” 26 Laban replied, “It is not our custom here to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older one. 27 Finish this daughter’s bridal week; then we will give you the younger one also, in return for another seven years of work.” 28 And Jacob did so. He finished the week with Leah, and then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel to be his wife. 29 Laban gave his servant girl Bilhah to his daughter Rachel as her maidservant. 30 Jacob lay with Rachel also, and he loved Rachel more than Leah. And he worked for Laban another seven years. 31 When the LORD saw that Leah was not loved, he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren. 32 Leah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Reuben, for she said, “It is because the LORD has seen my misery. Surely my husband will love me now.” 33 She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said, “Because the LORD heard that I am not loved, he gave me this one too.” So she named him Simeon. 34 Again she conceived, and when she gave birth to a son she said, “Now at last my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.” So he was named Levi. 35 She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said, “This time I will praise the LORD.” So she named him Judah. Then she stopped having children. (Gen 29:25-35)
A certain middle-aged man with half-gray and half-brown had a liking for two women and decided to take both of them as wives. Happy was the wife who could please him the most. They took good care of him in all ways, at all times, with all affection.
However, one problem exists. When the first wife combed the man’s head, she did not like the brown hairs on his husband’s head. So she would pick a hair here and a hair there. The second wife, too, did not like the mix colors on her husband’s head. So she decided to pick out the white hair. Before too long they left the man a bald man. The point is: no person can have two loves!
Loving two people at the same time is a recipe for disaster. In love, three is a crowd. If there ever were a victim and a loser in Jacob’s case, it was Leah (v 32). She got his man but not his heart. She thought tricking and bargaining Jacob into marriage would make him love her. No wonder she felt hated all her life. Leah’s acquiescence to his father’s plan caused her to be hated (vv 31, 33), not even misunderstood or even unloved, as the word “hate” has been translated in NIV. The word is same feelings of “hate” that Joseph’s brothers had for Joseph (Gen 37:4, 5). Can you imagine how shocked, nauseated, dazed he felt at the sight of his supposedly sister-in-law in bed? He could have passed out, throw up or broke down.
Later in life, Leah thought giving Jacob a son would make her husband forget about his first love and the other woman, ensure her husband would spend more time with her, keep the husband around the house and reward her with love and attention, but things did not turn out that way. In verse 33, in time the breakthrough came when she realized that Jacob did not love her even though she had borne him two sons. A third child did not make any difference to Jacob (v 34) although Leah clung to the hope that her husband would be attached to her or the kids, but it was false hope.
How Leah got sucked into the love triangle is another story. How Leah agree to his father’s scheme was beyond belief. Her problem was not the absence of love, but the absence of self-esteem. Leah had weak eyes (v 17), but the eyes were not a curse. Western or Eastern eyes, brown or blue eyes, single or double eyelids, long- or short-sightedness, glasses thick as onions are never a curse in itself. Her lack of self-love, self-worth and self-respect when she felt unloved were her handicap. Her eyes were not attractive, but they were not unattractive. Having weak eyes did not signal a curse or her doom. This word translated as “weak” in NIV (2 Sam 3:39) is often the same word for “tender” (Gen 33:13, Prov 4:3, Isa 47:1, Ezek 17:22), “gentle” (Deut 28:54, Job 41:3), “inexperienced” (1 Chron 22:5), and “indecisive” (2 Chron 13:7). Probably the most familiar translation for weak is from Prov 15:1: “A gentle answer turns away wrath.”
Unlike Bible readers, Leah did not have the benefit of seeing the big picture or the distant future. From her son Judah will be the Messiah line (Gen. 49:8-12). The gospel of Matthew traces Jesus’ roots to Judah (Matt 1:2). Rachel was buried in her own tomb (Gen. 35:19), but Leah was buried with Jacob (Gen 49:31). In the end love was not Leah’s lot in life; misery was all she knew (v 32). She took a leaf out of Hagar’s playbook and borrowed a word original to Hagar. Her misery was the same word used for Hagar’s suffering (Gen 16:11) when she fled at her mistress Sarah’s mistreatment. After having a child with Jacob, she still couldn’t escape the empty, feeling. The misery she mentioned (v 32) was self-inflicted. Her problem was not a serious eye problem, but a serious heart and mind problem.
Eventually Leah discovered that playing victim and playing spoiler was no fun when others refuse to play. Her education was complete when her fourth child came. This last time she stopped raising her hopes again and mentioning her husband again.
Conclusion: Married people know that love is a catalyst for change, but not a cure for all ills. The Chinese say, “Falling in love is easy, living together is hard.” Love is the most powerful force in the world, but is also the most perplexing thing in the world. Are you married or are you marrying to escape a controlling parent, a loveless family, a boring life or a low self-esteem? Have you dealt with the empty feeling or the character flaw you have to be the right person? Do you bring joy hope or misery and suffering to people around you?
Other sermons in the series and other sermon series: