Can you ever have too much of a good thing? My son Luke would answer with a resounding, “Yes!” Luke loves sweets, and on more than one occasion when we’ve let our guard down, he’s eaten himself sick. Afterwards, it’s with the same resolve that he says, “I’ll never do that again!” only to stuff himself with ooey goodness once more. Ah well. Another guy who can testify to the demerits of overindulgence is Jacob. However his “sweet tooth” has nothing to do with candy.
Genesis 29-30. After conspiring with his mother, Rebekah, to deceive his father, Isaac, into giving him the blessing, Jacob has to run for his life as a hot-tempered Esau plots to kill him. He spends a night in the field where the LORD appears to him in a dream. Jacob sees a ladder with its top reaching into heaven and angels ascending and descending – access between the physical and spiritual planes (Jesus will use the same imagery with Nicodemus in John 1 to describe Himself as the bridge between heaven and earth – the only way to the Father). God officially pronounces the Abrahamic blessing over Jacob, making him the undisputed heir of the Covenant. The next morning Jacob departs for Haran.
Upon arrival in Haran, Jacob meets Rachel and falls…hard. His love for her is the stuff of legend, a romance writer’s dream. Laban, Jacob’s uncle and Rachel’s father, offers Jacob Rachel’s hand in marriage for seven years of service, a very steep price for a bride (more than double what would have been customary), but Jacob doesn’t seem put off at all. In fact, Moses tells us that the seven years seemed but a few days to Jacob because of his love for Rachel. And just when we thought that they would live happily ever after…there’s a wicked twist in the plot.
Jacob soon learns that he and his mother are not the only ones in the family skilled in the art of deception. He meets his match in Laban. Not only is Laban able to extract twice the bride price for Rachel, he switches out her sister Leah at the wedding feast. Jacob, who deceived his dad by pretending to be his brother, is deceived by Leah pretending to be her sister at the direction of her father. And then before Jacob can protest too profusely, Laban again offers Rachel…for another seven years.
So Jacob finds himself with two wives and a vicious rivalry ensues between them. Leah, the more fertile of the two, jumps out of the gate with four sons. The sad thing is that the names of the first three (Reuben, Simeon and Levi) all indicate her unrequited love for Jacob. It’s not until Judah is born that she is able to put her focus on the LORD. Meanwhile, Rachel, realizing that she is barren (barren and beautiful just like Sarah and Rebekah), resorts to the same remedy that Sarah did – she gives her maid, Bilhah, to Jacob as a surrogate bride. And she has two sons. Not to be outdone, Leah also gives her maid to Jacob; and two more sons are born. Then Leah has two more sons and a daughter of her own. And finally Rachel has a son of her own and names him Joseph, saying “May God give me another son.”
The competition in this section would be comical if it wasn’t so heartbreaking. For in the midst of all the “good” – wives that seem to love him and many, many sons – Jacob’s family is a mess. Seeking to accomplish God’s purposes using their own wiles has resulted in an absolute mess. Although the consequences would make for a riotous reality TV show, the lesson is not unique for Jacob and clan. It’s been a repeated pattern in the lives of the patriarchs. Operating according to their own understanding results in pain and confusion and frustration for themselves and those around them, but operating according to God’s direction results in the uncomplicated realization of His promises (I find a similar truth at work in my life.). But God will bless them in spite of themselves, and through their line all the families of the earth will be blessed. May God give us the grace to trust Him more and more with all our hearts and not to lean on our own understanding, in all our ways acknowledging Him so that He may direct our steps.
Until next time…stay salty.