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Proper 12 A Genesis

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Theme: What’s important in a spouse?

Let us pray.

Most holy, Lord God, unlike ancient peoples and some current cultures, we choose our spouses; give us discerning hearts and minds to choose spouses who commit for life and will put in the work to make our marriages work, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

A news item a few months ago stated that the best marriages are those where women marry men who are less attractive than themselves. Psychologists who studied newlyweds found men who were better-looking than their wives were more likely to be unhappy and have negative feelings about their marriage.

In couples where the wife is more attractive, both partners tended to be very content. The research, published in the Journal of Family Psychology, suggests that, in evolutionary terms, women are less choosy about their man’s looks as long as he is able to help them reproduce.

Men, however, are programmed to choose a mate who is most likely to pass on their genes and look for youth, health and physical attractiveness. The tests involved 82 couples married within the previous six months.

What I remember from my statistics classes is that the sample for this study has two flaws: 1) the sample size is too small, and 2) the sample is only among newlyweds who probably have not transitioned to romantic love. In other words, their hormones aren’t allowing them to think straight.

The article I found on the internet invited comments. Here is a sample of those comments (a more scientific sample in my humble opinion): Stephen says, “I’ve known this to be true for years!” Lars disagreed, “What a crock, since when is marriage all about looks?”

Andrea comments, “I know it’s true, and have known it for years. My marriage is like this and several of my friends. I think there are more reasons for this than stated here in this article.” Jeanne says, “I’ve been married for 38 years come October - I always thought my husband was better looking. I don’t put much stock in this study. Maturity level, commitment and COMMMON VALUES are much more important to a good marriage than who is prettier!”

Rob comments, “What an amazing finding! Men enjoy having an attractive wife. Women tend to like ‘kind eyes.’”

One commentator noted that studies indicate that shared religious values produce happier marriages in couples. We assume that the people of Haran and Abraham’s family all worship the same God. Isaac couldn’t marry a local woman and Jacob is told that he should not marry a local woman. Religious belief was probably the reason.

So, we find Jacob going to Abraham’s hometown looking for a wife and, by the way, he is running for his life. When Jacob reached Haran, he stops at a well. Fortuitously, Rachel, daughter of Laban, arrives at the well to water sheep. Laban is Jacob’s uncle. Jacob removed the rock over the well, allowing Rachel to water her flock. Jacob then kissed Rachel and wept, telling Rachel that he is Rebekah’s son. Rachel ran home with the news.

Laban came running to meet his nephew, hugging and kissing him. Laban then invited Jacob to his house. Laban may have remembered the expensive gifts that Abraham had sent previously for Rebekah. Our story picks up after Jacob had stayed with Laban one month.

Laban tells Jacob that he should not work for nothing and asks what his wage should be. Laban now ceases to be an uncle and family, but is now a master talking to a laborer. We are then told that Laban has two daughters. The eldest, Leah (which means cow), either has nice eyes or dull eyes, depending on which translation you read. The Hebrew word could be translated either way, but for our story, her eyes were meant to be dull by the original writer.

Now Rachel (which means ewe), on the other hand, was hot. Not too surprisingly, it was Rachel with whom Jacob fell in love. As Dr. Gary Chapman would word it, “Jacob had the tingles for Rachel.” So Jacob answered Laban by saying that he would work for Laban seven years, if he can marry Rachel. (Jacob had nothing – no dowry for his intended.) Laban agreed. It was better she be married to Jacob than to a stranger.

Now this was a major social fopa. A younger daughter is never married before one who is older. Jacob should have known this, but probably thought that his uncle would make an exception in his case. After all, it was Jacob who stole his older brother’s birthright. Jacob never thought too much for social rules. Jacob loved Rachel so much that his seven years labor seemed like a few days.

Nevertheless, Jacob kept careful track of those seven years. When that time was up, he asked Laban to honor their agreement and allow Jacob to consummate the marriage. So Laban invited many people for a great wedding feast. But instead of Rachel, Laban took Leah into Jacob’s bed. The great deceiver is deceived! The master will determine the laborer’s wages. And parenthetically, Leah’s, servant, Zilpah, was thrown into the deal.

It must have been very dark in the bedroom (or maybe Jacob had a lot of wine, which Laban was probably generously providing) for it wasn’t until morning that Jacob discovered that he married Leah instead of Rachel. This is the same trick Jacob played on his blind father. 

He set out to complain to Laban that he was deceived into working seven years for Rachel only to discover he married Leah. Of all people, Jacob asks why he was deceived. I guess it doesn’t feel so good to be on the receiving end of deception instead of the giving end. Laban explained the rules (after the fact) that the eldest is married before the younger daughter.

Laban told Jacob to spend a one week honeymoon with Leah and after the week he may marry Rachel in exchange for another seven years labor. A good deal of Laban! Fourteen years of labor without wages for Jacob and he gets both daughters married off! So, a week later Jacob marries Rachel and gets Rachel’s servant, Bilhah, to boot. Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah. He worked for Laban another seven years. Jacob gets his comeuppance.

This is a curious Bible story in that God is never mentioned. After promising to be with Jacob always last week, God is apparently absent. Is God punishing Jacob for his past behavior? We can only speculate. God was with Abraham’s servant when Rebekah was selected, but Jacob receives no divine favor. Though Jacob will inherit God’s favor, Jacob is not free from the whims of life, especially those of his own making. After contending with his brother Esau, Jacob must now contend with two wives vying for his attention and affection. We wonder if Jacob’s fate is dictated by his character.

Though God is with Jacob, God is not hanging around to save Jacob from every misfortune that comes along. These marriages will give Jacob the twelve tribes of Israel, including the birth of Judah, from whom the Christ will be born. Maybe we, too, should be ready to recognize God’s presence even when God does not bail us out of every predicament.

We now pray: Gracious God and giver of all good gifts, give us the wisdom to be in life-long commitments; make us aware of your presence when bad things happen to us; remind us that you only want the best for us, through faith in your son who loved us, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Text: Genesis 29:15-28 (NRSV)
15 Then Laban said to Jacob, “Because you are my kinsman, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell me, what shall your wages be?” 16 Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. 17 Leah’s eyes were lovely,b and Rachel was graceful and beautiful. 18 Jacob loved Rachel; so he said, “I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.” 19 Laban said, “It is better that I give her to you than that I should give her to any other man; stay with me.” 20 So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.

21 Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife that I may go in to her, for my time is completed.” 22 So Laban gathered together all the people of the place, and made a feast. 23 But in the evening he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob; and he went in to her. 24 (Laban gave his maid Zilpah to his daughter Leah to be her maid.) 25 When morning came, 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?” 26 Laban said, “This is not done in our country—giving the younger before the firstborn. 27 Complete the week of this one, and we will give you the other also in return for serving me another seven years.” 28 Jacob did so, and completed her week; then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel as a wife.



b  Meaning of Heb uncertain

[1]  The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. 1989. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

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