Archive for March, 2014

Genesis 29:21-35 – CAUGHT IN A TRAP! I CAN’T WALK OUT!

Caught in a Trap - Photo by Ross Cochrane

Caught in a Trap – Photo by Ross Cochrane

“What have you done to me?” Jacob rages at Laban. “I worked seven years for Rachel! Why have you tricked me?” 

Treating Rachel as a commodity to be worked for, a mail order bride on lay-buy for 7 years, he is surprised when he receives the wrong package. Perhaps he had celebrated with just a little too much wine at the wedding feast but “that night, when it was dark, Laban took Leah to Jacob, and he slept with her” (Genesis 29:23).

How do you confuse Leah for Rachel, even in the dark. They obviously don’t talk? Or is it that in 7 years Jacob really doesn’t get to know Rachel except for her “beautiful figure and a lovely face” (Genesis 29:17).

Has her father forced Leah to say nothing? Surely Leah could talk, but to do so will lead to Laban being embarrassed by his guests and by the community. Retribution for her will be swift and perhaps brutal. Leah will never escape the life she lives with her greedy father unless she marries this man who will one day inherit a double portion of Isaac’s wealth and take her away. After 7 years she knows Jacob to be a hardworking man and it seems she has fallen in love with him. When she bears him children, she laments that he does not love her. Caught in a trap. She can’t walk out.

Jacob the deceiver is deceived. By pretending to be Rachel, Leah was inadvertently treating Jacob in the same way he had treated his father. As Jacob had pretended to be Esau to obtain his birthright and blessing, now Leah pretends to be Rachel to obtain freedom from Laban. He reaps what he sows. What he expected to be his dream life is rapidly becoming his nightmare. Caught in a trap. He can’t walk out.

Discovering he is married to the wrong woman makes him feel like an old fool, but there is nothing Jacob can do about it, … except to marry Rachel as well. It seems bigamy is an acceptable practice in Haran. He receives Rachel a week later after an agreement with Laban to work another 7 years for her.

Was Leah God’s choice for Jacob in marriage? We are not told. Jacob only sees that Rachel has a beautiful face and figure. Does God approve of this second marriage? No statement of judgment is given, but it is interesting that He gives children to Leah and not Rachel.

The Lord sees that Leah is unloved, but why does He decide to take sides in this matter? Jacob prefers Rachel. Is it that the Lord prefers Leah? Is it only because Leah is hated that He blesses her with children or is there more to it than that? (Genesis 29:31). Perhaps it is also that Leah is a woman of faith and Rachel is yet to believe in the Lord. Jesus would come through a line of believers.

Leah expresses her belief in God through the names of her children, Reuben, Simeon, Levi. She is grateful for children because she is miserable in her marriage. Each time she has a child she expresses her desire to be loved and says, in effect “The Lord has noticed my misery. I am unloved, but now my husband will love me” (Genesis 29:32-34 NLT). We all want to be loved. Many life-lessons unfold in the years to come.

When she names her fourth son Judah (“praise to Jehovah”) she seems to have come to a place where she is content to simply trust in Jehovah, God of the Covenant, to work out His purposes in her life. From Judah the Saviour will come and the promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob will be fulfilled.

God is Leah’s marriage counsellor and she finds her strength in Him. When our heartaches collide with His purposes, soap operas are transformed into stories of salvation as we learn to trust in Christ. 

Pastor Ross

Image adapted by Ross Cochrane from MorgueFile Photo

Image adapted by Ross Cochrane from MorgueFile Photo

Spider and Trap - Photo by Ross Cochrane

Spider and Trap – Photo by Ross Cochrane

Spider and Dining Table - Photograph by Ross Cochrane

Spider and Dining Table – Photograph by Ross Cochrane

 

Genesis 29:2-20 – LOVE STORY OR DYSFUNCTIONAL SOAP OPERA?

Love Story or Dysfunctional Soap Opera. Image created by Ross Cochrane

Love Story or Dysfunctional Soap Opera. Image created by Ross Cochrane

A beautiful shepherd woman runs to tell her father of the stranger, a distant relative, who has arrived in Haran. He has greeted her with a customary kiss at the well. It is an event that will alter the course of her life.

The covering stone on the well is too heavy to be moved by only one or two children, so when all the flocks have arrived, a number of shepherd boys, helping each other, will be able to move the stone on the well. It seems that Rachel is the young adult who guides proceedings here on her father’s behalf. Laban is an influential businessman in the district and her flocks are always watered first.

Because of his age, and especially because he knows Laban, the young shepherd boys treat Jacob with respect, and Jacob is able to help them by moving the stone himself just as Rachel’s flock arrives. He’s doing alright for a 75 year old who has just walked for over 700 km! (Genesis 29:2-11).

Is this the well where Rebekah’s life had been changed forever? Rachel and her sister Leah have heard the story of how Rebekah married a man she had never seen, a relative from far away. Laban has told them of the riches a servant had brought from Isaac for the hand of his sister (Genesis 24 – http://wp.me/pLiNz-aR ). Is it happening again?

Laban is more than happy to entertain his sister’s son, Jacob. And happier still to hear Jacob’s story because Jacob is also here to find a wife and will one day inherit Isaac’s fortune (Genesis 27-28 – http://wp.me/pLiNz-mi ). A lucrative plan of deceit is already forming in Laban’s mind. For now he will embrace Jacob as his own son (Genesis 29:13).

If he is to stay, Jacob knows he must broker a deal. Custom gives him the option of working as a slave would for 7 years, knowing that he will not leave empty handed when his service is completed (Deuteronomy 15:12-13), so after a month, when Laban offers Jacob to name his own wage, Jacob proposes to work for Rachel’s hand in marriage (Genesis 29:15).

There is no mention of Jacob asking the Lord about whom he should marry or for that matter of him asking Rachel. How does she feel about marrying a man who will be in his 80’s by that time (Yes, I know they lived longer in those days, but still..!). It seems Rachel is much younger than Leah. Leah is obviously more Jacob’s age, but all he sees is that “There is no sparkle in Leah’s eyes, but Rachel has a beautiful figure and a lovely face” (Genesis 29:17). Isn’t there more to choosing a wife than this? I wonder what Rachel thinks of him?

Without even asking Rachel, Laban agrees to paying Jacob’s “wages”, and two dysfunctional men broker a deal more akin to the trafficking of women than to marriage. They are treating Rachel like a commodity. It seems Jacob is still trying to manipulate God’s will for his life.

(Leah and Rachel know that they are being bought like slaves. Later, when they are considering running away from Laban, they say “Are we not considered by him as foreigners? For he has SOLD us,…” Genesis 31:15 NASB). 

Jacob is determined to get what he wants by trading his work for her. “So Jacob worked seven years to pay for Rachel. But his love for her was so strong that it seemed to him but a few days” (Genesis 29:20 NLT). I wonder how long it seemed for Rachel and whether his “love” was reciprocated or whether her love for him was as strong? Is this a love story or dysfunctional soap opera? I can hear the Beatles song playing in the distance; “Money can’t buy me love” but Jacob is not listening. 

Jesus, the descendant of Jacob also paid a price for a bride with His work on the Cross, but unlike Jacob He paid the price for our sin. Dying for us was His ultimate expression of love for us, but rather than entrapping us or forcing us to respond, He opens the door to freedom by removing the barrier that separates us from Him. You are free to choose whether or not to respond to His love. 

Pastor Ross

PS I see this story through Western eyes and the customs of the East are a puzzle to me, especially this kind of arranged marriage, yet the story here which is so often presented as the great love story seems flawed to me. I love how the Bible makes no judgment but presents the story as it is and leaves us to find what God is saying to us. Much of the details are not given and as this is a devotional blog, I have added my own thoughts (conjecture) about the details of the story in an effort to understand it more clearly and would encourage the reader to explore Genesis 29 themselves.

GENESIS 29:1 – A FRESH NEW BLANK CANVAS

New Fresh Canvas

New Fresh Canvas

The sun lifts the vibrance of the earth after the rain as the palette is prepared afresh. The old, muddied colours are discarded, scraped off and replaced by a spectrum of blues; sapphire, indigo and azure and brilliant reds, yellow ochres, whites and graded skin tones. Once more the canvas is placed on the wooden supports of the easel. What will emerge?

The descriptive strokes begin, rich with latent possibilities, warm and intense. There is no agreement as to which colour must be used. The variations are endless. The music of light is not restricted by set measures and an infinite spectrum of miscible timbres can be created; dynamic descants conducted by the skill of the artist. A rhythm begins as each stroke forms melodic harmonies, silent sequences, impressions only perceived and interpreted by the eyes and heart.

For Jacob, life becomes a canvas, paintbrush, palette and a set of imaginative possibilities which must be explored with brilliant strokes of colour. The raw ingredients of creativity bring “what could be” into existence and somehow eject doubt and any unrealised intentions of the past. A creative space on which to paint something innovative, fresh and original is an exceptionally satisfying prospect. He mixes the palette with renewed purpose and anticipation. Jacob’s deception with his brother and father has muddied his thinking, but God steps in to give clarity and instead of running away from his problems Jacob begins to run towards his destiny. The portrait is yet to emerge.

He leaves his home in Beersheba in disgrace yet his steps are now buoyed with blessing. He had tried to use deception to obtain God’s promise but in the process stains his family relationships. His brother hates him and wants him dead. His father sends him to Haran to escape Esau’s wrath with the excuse of finding a wife, and in doing so he retraces the steps of Abraham of old. He is yet to learn the important lessons in integrity along the way.

Jacob now stands where Abraham had once entered the land and where Lot and Abraham had separated. He is still far from Haran yet his dream of a stairway to heaven and the promises of God have revived him for the journey ahead. Fresh new colours on his palette.

He had better hurry since he is around 75 years old and still has about a 600 km journey ahead. When Abraham’s servant sought a wife for Isaac in Haran, he prayed and was led clearly to Rebekah (Genesis 24:10-67). No doubt Jacob, spending so much time with his mother had heard the story many times, but nowhere are we told that Jacob prays about the outcome of his journey even though this is one of the most important decisions of his life.

As the portrait is painted, what shades and hues will be used to represent his life? Jacob’s stumbling steps toward faith invite me to ask “What is it that needs to change in my life to enable me to be true to the calling of God on my life, to be aligned with all I am created to be, to be more authentic, focused and clear about the challenges of the next step? What image will emerge from the canvas?” 

Pastor Ross