Sunday, July 16, 2006

An Awful Dirty Trick (Genesis 29 - 31)

Ahhh, sweet irony. Upon finding himself in his uncle Laban’s service, Jacob arranges to marry his cousin Rachel in exchange for seven years of work. A great wedding feast ensues, the people celebrate, and Jacob beds down in the dark with his new wife – only to find out the next morning he’d been had! He had married her older sister Leah by mistake! Does this remind anyone of that trick he pulled on his father Isaac? Come to think of it, it even reminds me of all those “confusing your sister for your wife” escapades.

Fortunately Jacob doesn’t have to worry about modern marriage laws. He waits a week and marries Rachel as well (with the promise of another seven years of work). Get ready for the next big sibling rivalry in Genesis, feminine style.

I can joke about it all I like, but it really is heartbreaking to see Leah and Rachel go at it, vying for their husband’s affection and God’s blessing (aka, Children). Here Rich Mullen's haunting song comes to mind:

Jacob, he loved Rachel
and Rachel, she loved him
And Leah was just there for dramatic effect

Well it's right there in the Bible,
so it must not be a sin
But it sure does seem like an awful dirty trick

And her sky is just a petal
pressed in a book of a memory
Of the time he thought he loved her and they kissed

And her friends say, "Ah, he's a devil"
But she says, "No, he is a dream"
This is the world as best as I can remember it

Thankfully it’s not an exact parallel to Cain and Abel. In the end, there seems to be plenty of blessing to go around, and Leah also seems to “do well”. With the birth of each son, Leah has hopes of gaining Jacob’s love. Finally, with the birth of Judah, the fourth, she simply says “this time I will praise the Lord.”

Through even more deception, Jacob and his harem leave Laban with a fortune of sheep and head back for Canaan. Laban intercepts them, demanding his stolen household gods (whom Rachel is hiding in her saddlebag). When he can’t find them, he and Jacob form a covenant of friendship, and part on far better terms. He now heads home to face his older brother Esau, who apparently would like nothing better than to kill Jacob and all his family.

I've always wondered about Rachel stealing the idols of her father's house. Why did she do that? Were they gold, and valuable, or was she not a true follower of the God of Jacob? Either case it was not a good thing, and of course it ended as good as it could, with her lie that she couldn't get up and hiding them under her. More lying and deceit for the Jacob clan. And she dies in the childbirth of the son she hid the idols with. Did God take her out of the picture rather than having her idol worship affect her sons?
Why does he intervene like that sometimes and not others?

In Rachel's defense, they might not have known that the Lord was a jealous god at this point. Later on Jacob orders them to "Put away the foreign gods that are among you and purify yourselves" and I assume the gods in question were among them.

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