July 30, 2017
Certain families have inside jokes that are around for many years. I am telling one on my Dad today. It is probably 40 some years old now. It begins with Mom cleaning out his car. He, like me, was a rural mail carrier and our cars get very dusty. As Mom went to wipe off the dash board, she saw written in the dust (I write myself notes in the dust too) she saw two words, “glass eye.” Well, she wondered about what this could possibly mean, then went on with her cleaning. That night at supper, we were almost done with the meal when she suddenly remembered and asked Dad, “What in the world does 'wood eye' mean?” Dad thought about it for a few moments, then started laughing. Dad didn't have belly laughs very often, but this was one. Finally, through his laughter he explained that he wrote down those two words to remind himself to tell us a joke he heard on the radio. By this time we were all laughing about the wood eye and hadn't even heard the joke. But here it is...with apologies for a bit of political incorrectness.
Once again I find myself apologizing for a joke. And I know it is bad and would have been long forgotten if not for the wood eye written in the dust. Anyways, the point I am getting to is that in today's Genesis story, we meet Leah. Leah it seems is that young lady at the dance who doesn't get asked to dance. Her beautiful sister Rachel is the belle of the ball so to speak. And Rachel is the one with whom Jacob falls in love. And Rachel is the one for whom Jacob works seven years so he can receive her hand in marriage. And after Laban pulls his trick to marry the eldest, Leah, to Jacob, it is still Rachel for whom Jacob's heart beats.
Let's review a bit of our story. We've been in Genesis for 7 weeks now. From creation to Abraham to Isaac to now Jacob, we are tracing the family tree of the Jewish nation and also the family tree of the Messiah, Jesus. Last week we heard Judy preach about Jacob's dream and Bethel. Remember, Jacob was on the run after stealing the birthright and the blessing from his brother Esau. He left with basically the clothes on his back and little more. He had received God's blessing in the Jacob's ladder dream. Today's reading actually joins the story a little later and we enter in the middle of the story. Let me share a bit from the verses preceding what we read today. Jacob was traveling east and happened across a well with three flocks of sheep waiting to be watered. “This was the common well from which the flocks were watered. The stone over the mouth of the well was huge. When all the flocks were gathered, the shepherds would roll the stone from the well and water the sheep; then they would return the stone, covering the well.”
He discovered in conversation with the shepherd that one of the flocks that would water here was the flock of his uncle Laban. “They told him, “here is Laban's daughter Rachel coming with the flock.” She was the shepherd. The moment Jacob spotted Rachel, daughter of Laban his mother’s brother, saw her arriving with his uncle Laban’s sheep, he was smitten, He went and single-handedly rolled the stone from the mouth of the well and watered the sheep of his uncle Laban. It normally took three men to move the stone—he was showing off for his new crush. He told Rachel that he was related to her father, that he was Rebekah’s son. She ran and told her father. When Laban heard the news—Jacob, his sister’s son!—he ran out to meet him, embraced and kissed him and brought him home.” And the rest, as they say, is history. Jacob's love led him to seek the hand of this beautiful shepherdess in marriage. The trouble was, Jacob had escaped with nothing, and it was customary to pay a price for the bride, especially one as beautiful as Rachel.
Now Laban was family...and they could have worked out a fair deal. But Laban was also cunning and greedy and saw how eager Jacob was for his daughter. He set a steep price; seven years of working for him in exchange for her hand in marriage. And Jacob readily agreed. And he worked his seven years. But we then discover that Laban was not true to his word. The marriage custom was to bring the bride veiled, her face covered for the entire ceremony leading to the wedding chamber. As we read, Laban substituted his first born, Leah, for Rachel. Tradition said the first born married first, it was just the way things were done. In his eagerness, Jacob never considered that tradition and didn't suspect. In the morning the deception was discovered. It is interesting to note, the scheming, sneaky, greedy Jacob has now been out-schemed.
The wedding festivities continued for one week. As we read, “When he’d completed the honeymoon week, Laban gave (Jacob) his daughter Rachel to be his wife. And he loved Rachel more than Leah.”
I'm back to where I started, Leah in second place. Second in beauty, in responsibility, second in the love of her husband. Leah has spent her life being in second place. Yes, she was the older sister, but Rachel was the beauty. And it was the beauty of Rachel that caught Jacob’s eye and won his heart.
It is natural to question how God could lead this patriarch, this pillar of the faith tradition in Judaism, into a family with two wives and two concubines. It was the practice of the day. The world was being populated, the wars would take so many young men, and let's face it, men ran things and women were considered property, even when love was as strong as it was for Jacob and Rachel. An important facet of bible study is realizing that we can not insert our value judgments on people who lived in a time when values were different. Especially when we look at the world before Jesus came and reset the values and the rules and priorities.
Leah. What do we know of her? She had beautiful eyes and had the ability to bear Jacob children. Chances are good she did not have high self-esteem. As we read ahead, we discover that Rachel was barren, but, “when the Lord saw that Leah was unloved, he opened her womb.” We do discover just a bit about how Leah saw her situation when we read about the birth of her first son, “Leah conceived and bore a son, and she named him Reuben; for she said, “Because the Lord has looked on my affliction; surely now my husband will love me.” Genesis 29: 32 Sadly, she thougth the only way to win love was bearing a son, and it was her only advantage and yet, it remained Rachel whom Jacob loved.
We learn here that God responds to people in need. Leah was in need of affirmation, in need of justification. God saw fit for her to be the first of Jacob's wives to bear a son. But more than that, God saw fit to give her a place of permanent honor. For her son Reuben was the one of Jacob's twelve sons through whom the Messiah's lineage would flow. She was unwanted, she was looked on as second rate, she was not beautiful in the eyes of this world. But through her, God saw fit to run the ancestry of the Savior of the world. God works in mysterious ways. No matter where you find yourself today, trust that God is working things in your life to bring honor and glory to God's purposes. In Romans, we read this familiar verse (one often misused) “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God.” We often take that to suggest that God is directly responsible for every thing that happens; from little things like losing our car keys to the big things like cancer. A translation I like a little better goes like this, “We know that God works all things together for good for the ones who love God.” A subtle difference, but it points out that God is working in all things; not necessarily causing them. A quote I use often and I'm sure I've shared it; but it is a quote that puts a perspective on just what God's place is, especially in disasters: Not everything that happens is an act of God; but God acts in everything that happens.”
So we could ask, did God direct Laban to trick Jacob into marrying Leah? Laban didn't seem to be one too interested in listening to God's direction so probably not. But did God work through Laban's deception? Yes, Leah's personal self worth was raised and she was used in the greater plan to bring the Messiah into the world.
Have you ever felt like a second class citizen in God's kingdom? I think we all, at one time or another, realize we could be better Christians. But understand this, God works in every one of us who are called as children of God. There are no second-rate children in God's hierarchy. Paul addresses us in our doubts, our times of wondering our worth, our times of feeling second rate. Listen to these wonderful words of assurance: “If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Powerful words that assure us that, like Leah, our worth is not in our looks or our skills or our value in the eyes of the world. Our worth is in the fact that God is for us. We are loved, cherished, and claimed. Nothing can separate us from that love.
Imagine again that you are Leah. It is the morning after the wedding, you and your new husband are waking up and when he looks over to you, his new wife, you see a look of great disappointment in his face. He can't hide it; he is not happy and that makes you feel even less important in this world in which you live. She felt worthless...this world has a way of making us feel worthless at times. That's why it is so important to know that God loves you. You can't consider yourself worthless when the creator of the universe knows you, sees you and loves you fully. We get that message from the Old Testament; hear Isaiah 49:16-17from The Message (MSG) “Can a mother forget the infant at her breast, walk away from the baby she bore? But even if mothers forget,
I’d never forget you—never. Look, I’ve written your names on the backs of my hands.”
And we get that message from the New Testament where we learn that Jesus went to the cross for you, his love is written in his hands as well; in the scars from the nails. Hear the good news, 1 John 3:1 ESV “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” And John 3: 16' “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
Our message today is pretty clear; this world may judge us as unworthy, as undeserving, ugly, second rate. For the world judges the outside and judges unfairly. But God...God looks on the heart and God loves each of us with an unconditional love. Live in that love and trust in God's goodness. Leah was judged too harshly for her looks; but God judged her as worthy of the great honor of being in the lineage of our Savior. Maybe Reuben's family looked back years later at how Laban's trickery resulted in Jacob and Leah getting married. Perhaps they laughed; a story carried on through the generations; Leah's legacy of honor. Our legacy is this: God has judged us as worthy of honor and glory, of grace and love through faith in Jesus Christ our Lord. Yes, Jesus loves us; the bible tells us so; from Genesis to Revelation we discover that we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. Nothing can separate us from God's love in Jesus. Be comforted in the great, eternal love of our Lord. Amen.
Hymn: Jesus Loves Me 304 PH