Where is God in all this?
Then Laban said to Jacob, “Because you are my kinsman, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell me, what shall your wages be?” Now Laban had two daughters. The name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. Leah’s eyes were weak, but Rachel was beautiful in form and appearance. Jacob loved Rachel. And he said, “I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.” Laban said, “It is better that I give her to you than that I should give her to any other man; stay with me.” So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.
Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife that I may go in to her, for my time is completed.” So Laban gathered together all the people of the place and made a feast. But in the evening he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob, and he went in to her. (Laban gave his female servant Zilpah to his daughter Leah to be her servant.) And in the morning, behold, it was Leah! And Jacob said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? Did I not serve with you for Rachel? Why then have you deceived me?” Laban said, “It is not so done in our country, to give the younger before the firstborn. Complete the week of this one, and we will give you the other also in return for serving me another seven years.” Jacob did so, and completed her week. Then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel to be his wife. (Laban gave his female servant Bilhah to his daughter Rachel to be her servant.) So Jacob went in to Rachel also, and he loved Rachel more than Leah, and served Laban for another seven years. (Genesis 29:15-30 ESV)
You’ve got to wonder sometimes why the Bible tells us some of things it does. Hearing this text – which doesn’t mention God – which describes a social setting that is not possible in this country – first cousins marrying, polygamy, a man marrying sisters – can leave people scratching their heads when they’re ploughing their way through the Bible, when they’re trying to find a way to teach this in Sunday School, when they’re wondering why the lectionary compilers even bothered. Scratching one’s head is one response; searching the Bible to understand the story is another.
We remember Jacob. He’s not new to us. Yes, he’s left his homeland because his older brother wanted to kill him. While Jacob and Esau are twins, Esau was still the older and Jacob robbed Esau of the first born’s blessing through trickery. Esau’s temper wasn’t going to stay in check so Jacob high-tailed it out of there and headed to his mother’s brother’s family. Far away; another country; other gods – and on his journey God meets him at the stairway to heaven and promised to be with him on his journey and to return him to his land and that he would have many descendants.
Whether Jacob thought that this meant a short stint in another country until he could return, we’ll never know. We guess he wasn’t thinking that it would be over 14 years until he might head back. The reason that it is at least 14 years is because Jacob – the cheat – gets cheated. Laban gets him well and truly. Laban uses Jacob’s love for Rachel against him. The text makes it pretty clear that Jacob really did care for Rachel; he loved her – and he was prepared to do whatever it took so that they could marry. Seven year engagements are not the norm today and I doubt if they were back then (outside of arrangements made by parents for their children when the children are small) yet Jacob entered the arrangement to work for Laban out of love and he survived it because of love.
Anticipation is sweet. And Jacob howls his protest when the veiled woman is revealed to be Leah. We don’t know why she went along with the charade – we can assume that she knew that her sister was Jacob’s choice – and Rachel may have even loved Jacob – but Leah is involved and the family tensions continue – Esau and Jacob, Esau and Isaac and Rebecca, Isaac and Rebecca, Isaac and Jacob, Jacob and Laban, Jacob and Leah, Leah and Rachel – it’s almost days of our lives!
We can’t use this text to teach about marriage relationships and we would be unwise to base our teaching on this text of how in-laws should get on. The story is straight forward – the cheat gets
cheated; the rorter gets rorted. The one time it seems that Jacob truly cares and it becomes a flaw by which he is manipulated.
And yet hidden outside of this text – in earlier chapters and then again in later chapters – are words and promises from God which remind us that Jacob isn’t alone. God has promised to be with him; to keep him. Keep – alive, well, strong, blessed, looked after. But this promise doesn’t translate into a magic carpet ride through life with everything laid on, where Jacob is seen as one of the luckiest men in the world. Instead Jacob seems like another ordinary cog in society who gets dumped on – work for what you want, don’t get it, start again.
There are times when people hope that if God is on their side that they might get things easy. Sometimes it may happen – that much needed parking space appears, the money for the bill miraculously is there, a relationship is rebuilt, a healing happens – but for most of us most of the time, life is pretty ordinary, that is it’s a mixture of ups and downs, things going our way and things not. Isn’t that basically the way people live all over the world – try and live as well as we can while trying to dodge bad things happening to us?
Where is God in all of this? Right with us. He is hidden outside of the newspapers and bills and the letters, texts, emails and tweets of our lives – in words spoken on a Sunday or maybe read in a morning devotion. He is right with us in our actions – hidden through a washing that reminds us that no matter where we roam or what we do or what is done to us – he has given us gifts of faith, eternal life, and the Holy Spirit. As we go through our weekly routines of work, cleaning home, eating, spending time with family, shopping – so God is also with us – hidden yet nourishing us through bread and wine that brings forgiveness to us, healing to our bodies, and a strengthening of faith. This is a mighty work God does – behind the ordinary day to day lives we live.
Jacob’s ordinary day-today life eventually involved 4 wives, numerous children, family tensions because of favouritism, hard work, frustration, fear and worry. I’m sure there were happy moments as well. We see God’s promise more clearly looking back then when we’re actually in the moment. Jacob’s descendants became the 12 tribes of Israel and from him the promise to Jacob’s grand father, Abraham, was fulfilled – through your descendant the world will be blessed.
Jesus lived an ordinary life – carpenter for the most part – but it became more scandalous when he became an itinerant preacher which later turned into a ‘failed’ messiah. What else do you call being strung up on a cross? If you’re using your eyes then you’re probably right – the guy’s cactus – what a waste of a life – but if you’re aware that God has a habit of taking ordinary and even shocking situations and hiding in them turning them into something else, then you might check out this crucifixion again.
You see Jesus doesn’t die as a crucified person – all angry and twisted and hateful and screaming revenge. Yes, he’s crucified but he gives up his life – forgiving all those who failed him and crying out in abandonment to a God he still trusts! His body is placed in a tomb – again pretty ordinary – most corpses are treated with care in their disposal – hence the shock when not – so Jesus’ burial is at least pretty normal – only this tomb can’t hold its corpse – and the message goes out and is still heard today: the grave is empty! Christ is risen! (He is risen indeed! Hallelujah!)
We live our lives as we see them pan out in front of us. Sometimes our choices are wise, sometimes not; sometimes we’re close to God, sometimes we’re not; sometimes people do the right thing by us, sometimes they don’t – and yet God’s promise remains with his people that he is with them through it all. As we live in this relationship – one of faith and trust – so God guides and helps us through words, water, bread and wine. Yes, God is so often hidden in the ordinary 24 hours of life but that doesn’t mean that he isn’t present or doing his work in and through us no matter what our day is like – you’ve just got to know where to look!
- Genesis 29:15 - 30