21 Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife. My time is completed, and I want to make love to 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 brought her to Jacob, and Jacob made love to her. 24 And Laban gave his servant Zilpah to his daughter as her attendant.
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 Bilhah to his daughter Rachel as her attendant. 30 Jacob made love to Rachel also, and his love for Rachel was greater than his love for Leah.And he worked for Laban another seven years.
31 When the Lord saw that Leah was not loved, he enabled her to conceive, but Rachel remained childless. 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.
(Genesis 29:21-35 NIV)
As we look back to the first half of Chapter 29, we saw Jacob arrive in the land of his uncle Laban, meet Laban’s daughter Rachel, and fall in love. Since Jacob arrived with nothing but the clothes on his back, he offered to work for Laban seven years in exchange for Rachel’s hand in marriage. Laban agreed, and Jacob happily served his time in Laban’s employ.
As we begin today’s text, the seven years have passed, and Jacob reminds Laban of their deal. Laban agrees and throws a big party for their marriage. As was the custom of their day, the bride and groom are ushered into their bridal suite under cover of darkness.
“And they lived happily ever after”, right?
No… not quite.
Just when Jacob thought he had life all figured out – a job, a beautiful wife-to-be, and God’s blessing and promise to make him a great nation, Laban changed the course of their lives forever.
Laban tricked Jacob and sent Leah into the bridal chamber rather than Rachel.
When Jacob awakened the next morning and saw Leah lying next to him, he was extremely angry! He immediately confronted Laban; Laban had somehow, over the course of seven years and a month, neglected to mention their local custom of requiring the older daughter to be married off before the younger daughter.
Laban told Jacob to finish his bridal week with Leah, then he would give Rachel to Jacob in exchange for another seven years’ labor. Jacob agreed to Laban’s request, and in less than 2 weeks, went from not being married to having two wives.
The trickster had been tricked; the cheater had been cheated. Jacob was getting a dose of his own medicine.
Let’s take a look at Jacob’s lessons learned here:
- Submission to the authorities over him (his father, and now Laban)
Jacob somehow thought the rules did not apply to him. This was a painful but necessary lesson in the building of Jacob’s character.
- Respect for the first-born – for his brother Esau, and now Leah
Jacob manipulated his older brother Esau for his birthright, and later his father for the first-born son’s blessing. God had promised that Esau would serve Jacob, but that was God’s providence to work that out, not Jacob’s right to take it unrighteously and cause great pain to so many family members as well as himself.
- Patience – waiting on God’s timing, not his own.
Jacob knew what he wanted, and went after it on his own schedule, and under his own power. Jacob was learning the blessings of waiting on God’s timing, and the consequences of impulsively acting on his own.
Unfortunately, Jacob also brought the dysfunctional family upbringing and favoritism that he had experienced growing up into his own home. Moses records that Jacob loved Rachel, and endured Leah. The Lord took note of this and allowed Jacob’s unloved wife Leah to bear children while his beloved wife Rachel was barren.
We feel the depth of Leah’s pain as she names each of her first three children:
- Reuben (God has seen my misery)
- Simeon (God hears me and knows that I am unloved)
- Levi (attached and united with God and Jacob because of her children/family)
After Levi, we see Leah relax a little and name her fourth son Judah (Praise the Lord).
We’ll spend some time on all Jacob’s son’s names (the twelve sons of Jacob, which become the twelve tribes of Israel) after we get through those chapters.
Through all this, God is growing and forming Jacob’s character to be more like Himself. Like Jacob, we often think that we can get away with our actions, that there are no consequences. And the only way God can get our attention is to bring pain into our lives.
And what is this pain? It’s often the very sin we’re guilty of, put back on us – not for our punishment, but for our experience and learning so we repent of our sins and become more like our Heavenly Father.
This pain-and-repentance process is also called the principle of sowing and reaping.
The Old Testament man Job said it best:
As I have observed, those who plow evil
and those who sow trouble reap it.
(Job 4:8 NIV)
This is not the eastern mystic idea of karma, of some unknown force in the universe bringing pain and harm to us when we hurt others, causing us to live in fear and always look over our shoulder for retribution, hoping we appease whatever and whoever decides whether every action we take is good or bad.
The principle of sowing and reaping is God lovingly showing us the consequences of our bad choices (also known as sin), blessing our good choices, and showing us a better way to live according to His love and character.
May we learn from our choices and consequences and seek to be more like Him through continually seeking deeper relationship and transformation through following Jesus and spending time with other Jesus-followers who are seeking to be more like Him.