Genesis: Roots, Relationship, Redemption
“Sisters, sisters. There were never such devoted sisters
Never had to have a chaperone, no sir. I’m here to keep my eye on her…”
Can anyone name that tune? Yes! It’s from White Christmas, with Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen. When they perform as their charming duet, the Haynes Sisters, with those big blue feather fans and their blue sequin dresses. That song was the fortuitous moment that they first caught the attention of their male counterparts… played, if you remember, by Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye. I think I’ve seen this film every year of my life in the days leading up to Christmas. Along with It’s a Wonderful Life, The Grinch, and now Elf.
Well, this song of the Haynes Sister is really a clever story about sisterly devotion and affection that is balanced with a story of rivalry and competitiveness. It’s a story that many of us who have siblings can identify with. Siblings know that love (somehow) can live alongside this rivalry and competition and never sway that unique devotion.
This song, with it message of steady loyalty makes a great theme song for us today, as we are introduced to some new characters in the Genesis narrative: Rachel and Leah. Two women, who are a timeless example of the sister relationship!
And as it is said a little farther along in our theme song…
“Lord help the mister who comes between me and my sister.
And Lord help the sister who comes between me and my man!”
These lines are a bit of a foreshadow of our story today.
Anyway, the tale of Rachel and Leah, is dropped right in the middle of the Jacob and Esau tale. Which is an important background for us to know, because it’s a parallel… just as a recap: Jacob and Esau were the twin siblings who were born fighting! Even wrestling around in their poor mother Rebekah’s womb… to eventually be born into a rivalry that would only grow deeper and more heated throughout their young lives. A rivalry that reached its peek when Jacob (who’s name mean trickster) schemed his way into possessing the family birthright (that was intended for Esau). Meaning that he gets the double portion of the inheritance, the right to be called the head of the family… Oh, and one more thing… being of Abraham’s line it means that he has the blessing of God. Jacob’s actions overturn a lot of social and family customs which results in him getting run out of camp and his brother vowing that one day he would have his vengeance! So Jacob runs off, only to fall asleep in the desert to dream a rather remarkable dream about God. While watching the heavenly highway of angels ascending and descending… God comforts Jacob and confirms that he is now in fact the possessor of the blessing of God (in spite of his less than godly behavior). Even assuring him that all will one day all will be well… and not to fear.
And so the Scripture that we read today… is the very next scene.
Many have seen this portion of Genesis as an Old Testament love story that goes a little something like this: After Jacob wakes up from his dream with God. He picks himself up off the ground with a new sense of confidence and assuredness. He then travels toward the land of the easterners. (This is where his mother is from) in search of his Uncle Laban, thinking he could work for him for a while as he laid low from Esau. And when he pulls into town, after a long and grueling journey, he sees a flock of sheep hanging out next to a well that are looking super thirsty! So, in his good mood, he hops off his camel looking to help the other shepherds water the sheep… and as they are getting ready to push away this giant stone that acts as a well cover he chats up the other shepherd. He asks them if they know his long lost Uncle Laban who he is looking for.
The shepherds say, “Of course we know him! He is fine and well! And, hey perfect timing! Here comes his daughter now! Bringing the sheep!”
And at this moment Jacob lays eyes on Rachel for the first time and it was love at first sight. Isn’t that sweet. He then turns to the well and picks up this giant stone that usually takes a group of shepherd to lift and heaves it off of the well. Jacob lifts it up single handedly (he put on quite the show) and then he runs towards her, kisses her and weeps on her! Then they run off together to tell her father that they found each other and they want to get married!
This is quite the meeting. Kind of a zero to 60 moment in both their lives! And if you think that these two make a cute couple: The shepherd girl and the exiled child of God… you would be right, but as much as we want them to live happily ever after… their story is just beginning.
When Rachel presents Jacob to her father he immediately declares: “Yes! You are my bone and my flesh!”
“These words ring in our ears from the story of the first man and woman in the garden, [You are bone of my bone… flesh of my flesh] how perfectly suited they are to one another, how closely related they are.” So we can hear these words as a great/grand welcoming of Jacob into Laban’s home – into his family… “Or… we can hear the tiniest hints of warning. If Laban is perfectly suited to his nephew, might that mean that the deceiver [Jacob] has at last met his match?”
And it would seem so…
Jacob asks his Uncle Laban for his youngest daughter Rachel. He says that he will work for him for seven years to earn the right to have her. And Uncle Laban agrees. Now Scripture takes this moment to point out that Uncle Laban had two daughters. Rachel, whom Jacob loved the moment he laid eyes on here, was beautiful and graceful (which Scripture tells us over and over again) and then another daughter who’s eyes were weak or delicate or poor. Now, you might be thinking that she is blind perhaps… But this is an idiom! This is the Hebrew way of saying that she didn’t exactly look like Rosemary Clooney or Vera Ellen. This is a sort of offensive remark towards Leah. She was apparently hard on the eyes.
And on the day of the wedding feast, after seven years of hard work, Jacob marries young Rachel… but in the morning after the marriage was consummated… it turns out that he had been tricked! Deceived! He had married Leah instead, not the beautiful young Rachel… whom he loved so very much…. Laban had done a classic bait and switch on him! Jacob, the one who deceived and fled from Esau, has now been trapped and deceived by Laban. How the tables have turned!
And if you are all wondering how that could happen… so am I… Most biblical scholars believe that ancient bridal veils covered really well. But, I’m thinking that perhaps Jacob probably had a little bit too good of a time at the wedding feast or something.
Regardless, Jacob wakes up next to, not the woman that he thought he married… but her sister.
So Jacob, realizing that he had been tricked marches off to Uncle Laban’s house, after his honeymoon night and shouts “What have you done? Why would you betray me?”
And Uncle Laban calmly responds, and I’m sure this infuriated Jacob… he says simply, ”Where we live, we don’t give the young woman before the oldest. Work for me for seven more years… then you can have Rachel as well.”
So that’s what he did. Jacob worked for 14 years… in order to have his beloved Rachel. The object of his love at first sight.
I can’t help but see in this story that there aren’t any winners here, really.
Jacob gets tricked and manipulated out of fourteen years of a relationship with the woman he loves.
Rachel gets jockeyed around, thinking that this was to be her future husband, only to be the object of a traumatizing practical joke.
And Leah, poor Leah… she gets married off to a man that doesn’t want to be her partner. And she goes down in history as the unwanted wife. They one of poor/ weak eyes. How humiliating for her.
Probably, the only winner in this story is Laban… who got a free servant for fourteen years and got to play some fun jokes. But he still would have to deal with the aftermath of inflicting this kind of drama on his family!
There is a lot of disappointment and frustration in this story… shared by everyone!
And this kind of frustration would follow them all throughout their years together.
Jacob and Rachel probably had their life planned…. But it kept being delayed and delayed. They would eventually find out that Rachel was barren (a common theme in Scripture as we talked about a couple of weeks ago).
Jacob and Leah would have plenty of children together, but Leah would spend her entire life trying to win the affection of her husband, never to truly achieve it… she had to work hard to come to a point of relinquishing all of that sorrow and jealousy over to God.
Jacob and Laban would continue to trick and deceive each other.
This is a lot of frustration locked away in one family.
Many people throughout history have looked at the tale of Jacob and Rachel as an Old Testament love story. Having romanticized Jacob’s willingness to wait and work for Rachel. To slave for the woman that he loves.
But if Hollywood got a hold of this story, I hardly think that it would be a light romantic comedy.
Nevertheless, it is a love story. A real one.
Where there is perfect love and affection… there can also be times of utter jealousy, frustration, impatience and heartache.
Most of us here have lived long enough to have learned that despite our desires, our hopes, our deep love, despite our devotion to our spouse or our family… we often get what is unexpected! As one commentator I read this week put it… “Sometimes you choose Rachel and you wake up with Leah.” And you have to roll with it.
Now, our gospel reading today continued with Christ’s parables. Jesus at one point said that, “The kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind, and when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down and put the good into a basket but threw out the bad.” Sometimes real life, kingdom life, a love life, is like a net dragged through the sea. It pulls up both the good and the bad alike.
“Sometimes you choose Rachel and you wake up with Leah.”
But can we trust? Can we believe? That when life heaps on the bad fish… can we trust that there is more going on in our lives that we can see? Can we look at that tiny, enduring seed of love, and know that contained within its shell is something huge- something bold and big and perfect? Something of the Kingdom of God?
We all have stories of family drama- of hurts. Point in our lives that are filled with sorrow and brokenness. Stories of when thing just didn’t work out for us… These places in life are probably not ones that we reflect on when we are looking for God. That’s not where we expect to find God.
But know this, God is always involved in those places. God is there in the family drama, in the hurts, in the broken places. God is there. Healing, working to redeem and restore.
With that in mind, I boil this all down into a parable: The kingdom of God is like a man who chose the perfect Rachel, the younger daughter. He worked and slaved for her hand. She was beautiful and graceful and he was devoted to her. But after the wedding night he awoke to find Leah, the older sister laying next to him. Bound to him in marriage for all time. But as the years went by, what was disastrous, something great and wonderful and true. Love healed things. Children came and loved their mother. A partner came and loved his wife. A sister came and was restored to her family. A brother came and was reconciled and welcomed home. And God was there in everything. One unexpected and unwanted morning so long ago gave way for the blessings of God to come into being.
Children of God, do you trust that God is at work in the messy places of life? When you choose Rachel and wake up with Leah… know that nothing is out of reach of God’s redeeming work.
 Magdalene’s Musings. The Cost of Deception: a sermon on Genesis 29:1-28
 Interrupting the Silence. Sermon: Waking Up with Leah