Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The Unloved Wife

Genesis 29:15-28

One of the biggest obstacles modern people have to reading the Bible is that the people and settings of the stories seem so foreign to us. When we read Genesis for instance, we find ourselves transported into a time and place where being the first-born son means everything, where women are bartered like property, and it is not at all unusual for a man to have multiple wives. It is offensive to our sensibilities. What relevance could these stories have to people here and now? Haven’t we outgrown this kind of stuff?

First, by way of preface for today’s lesson, let me start by saying that when it comes to the cultural norms of the ancient world the bible is descriptive rather than prescriptive. In other words, the stories are just telling us what the world in that time and place was like, they aren’t necessarily being held up as a model for how things should be today.

In fact, if we actually observe how these stories unfold, the Bible presents the systems of polygamy and patriarchy as a complete disaster. They lead only to heartbreak, jealousy, and violence.

Secondly, we should be honest about whether or not we really have outgrown this kind of stuff. Although our culture is much different from the ancient culture of the Bible, human nature really hasn’t changed all that much.

In our story today, there are two sisters, the daughters of Laban, Leah and Rachel. Our translation says, “Leah’s eyes were lovely, and Rachel was graceful and beautiful. Jacob loved Rachel.” This just dosen’t get it right, and so you actually miss one of the main points. Most translations say that Leah’s eyes were weak or delicate. In other words, Leah had an eye disorder. She was either cross-eyed or she had some kind of astigmatism that made her squint. It would be more accurate to say, “Leah was an awkward looking wallflower, but Rachel was a real knock out with a killer body.” Naturally, Jacob likes the pretty one!

Aren’t you glad that we have outgrown this sort of thing, and we now live in a culture where the value and worth of women is not based on their physical appearance? Maybe this story is a bit more current than we care to admit…

Leah, lived her whole life in the shadow of her more beautiful and alluring younger sister. Jacob was utterly infatuated with Rachel, but Leah was invisible. Laban has to trick Jacob into marrying her. This is a bit of poetic justice by the way. Jacob, who tricked his father and stole his brother’s blessing is getting a taste of his own medicine. It’s hard not to see Laban’s explanation as a jab, “around here we don’t give to the younger before the elder.”

Jacob does eventually get to marry Rachel too, however, in return for another seven years of labor. These two sisters were married to one man, and they competed for his affection, but the text tells us that Jacob loved Rachel more. Leah, was desperate for her husband’s approval, but he loved Rachel more even though Leah was the sister that gave him more sons.

Jacob may have favored Rachel, but God favored Leah. The text says, “When the LORD saw that Leah was not loved, he enabled her to conceive, but Rachel remained childless.”

Leah was the girl that nobody wanted, but God loved her and he blessed her. God doesn’t judge by the same standards that the world judges. He doesn’t value the things that the world values. God is in the habit of taking the side of the powerless, the weak, and despised of the world.

Leah’s unhappy marriage should seem somewhat familiar to us from a couple chapters back. It is surprisingly reminiscent of Jacob’s upbringing. Although Jacob was the chosen of God, his father Isaac loved his twin brother Esau more.

Esau famously despised his birthright and handed it over to Jacob for a bowl of soup. Jacob and Esau are not so unalike in this regard. Jacob was born with the spiritual blessing of God, destined to be the bearer of God’s promise, and yet he despised this blessing and instead sought what his brother had. He wanted the inheritance and status that came with being the firstborn.

Esau had what Jacob wanted, his father’s love, his birthright, and his blessing. Rachel had what Leah wanted, the love and favor of her husband Jacob.
Both were able take what they wanted by deception, but it ultimately left them unfulfilled.
Isn’t it ironic? Leah and Jacob are so much alike, but Jacob only has eyes for Rachel. Leah is the wife that God provided, but she is not the wife that Jacob wanted.

God favors Leah first and more abundantly with children, but he doesn’t forget to show mercy to Rachel too. Although she struggles with infertility, she eventually has a son—who unsurprisingly is Jacob’s favorite—Joseph with his coat of many colors.

Together these two sisters, Leah and Rachel, are the mothers of the nation of Israel. We can trace their lineage and see how this story continues to ripple throughout the rest of the Biblical narrative.

Israel is God’s chosen people, the bearer of God’s blessing for the world, but they despise this birthright. They want instead what all the other nations have, a warrior king who will bring them glory and riches. In concession to this demand, God gives them King Saul, a descendant of Rachel. Like Rachel, he is very attractive with a very impressive stature. He is everything a nation would want in a king, but it all goes wrong and he is rejected by God.

In his place, God chooses one of the sons of Jesse—a descendant of Leah’s son Judah—named David. Of all Jesse’s son’s David is the least outwardly impressive, he is a young shepherd boy tending the flock, but God says,  “the LORD sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”

It is from the Lineage of Leah, the tribe of Judah, the House of David, that God brings the Messiah Jesus Christ. The people are waiting for a worldly king and champion, someone to thrash their enemies, and restore the worldly glory and splendor of Israel. They want what Rome has, power, status, and the admiration of the world. Instead, they get a suffering Messiah of whom it is written,

He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.He was despised and rejected by mankind,a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.Like one from whom people hide their faceshe was despised, and we held him in low esteem. 

Jesus Christ was the messiah that God provided, but he was not the Messiah that Israel wanted.