33 Jacob’s marriages and pruning

Please read Gen 29:15-30 beforehand

 Who’s who?

At last, the great day of the long-awaited marriage dawned, and Laban collected all his people for the feast that would last many days.  Rachel was sitting there, beautifully adorned in her bride’s outfit, but so heavily veiled that Jacob was not able to see much of her.

Quietly dusk descended over the land and Rachel was escorted to the marriage tent to prepare herself for her first night with her husband. Had Laban perhaps ensured that his son-in-law had taken a couple of extra tots?  It certainly was not above him to have done just that. Jacob excused himself from their guests, lifted the tent flap and disappeared inside. That night he and his bride became one as God intended it to be. 

Shortly after daybreak he awoke, for he was an early riser, lifted the blanket which obscured her face so as to look upon her beautiful features once more before joining the guests.  But then, shocked to the core of his being, he jumped up, shouting, “But this is Leah!”  Laban had deceived him unbelievably, tricking him into marrying his daughter Leah (29:22-27)!

What now? He desperately searched for a way out, but there was nothing doing, the damage had been done irrevocably; he had had intercourse with Leah, taking away her virginity.

 What you sow is what you reap

Just as Jacob and his mother Rebekah had conspired to deceive Isaac, Laban and his daughter Leah had now connived to deceive Jacob.  Just as Isaac was, because of his blindness, unable to see that he was blessing Jacob instead of Esau, were Jacob’s eyes in the dark of night, kept from seeing that he was having intercourse with Leah and not with Rachel.  Just like Isaac had sown the seed of God’s blessing over Jacob and had been unable to recall it, Jacob had now committed his seed to Leah and was unable to recall it.  What you sow is what you will reap.

 The Master pruner at work on a very special tree.

“Lord, why did You, the all-knowing God, allow this to happen to me? How does this fit in with the ladder dream and Your promises that night?” 

God does not work what is wrong, but He uses it and here He allowed and used Laban and Leah’s crafty plan to begin to prune away that wild shoot, that ugly character trait of dishonesty from Jacob’s character, that he might become a tree that would bear splendid fruit from which all the nations of the earth would benefit; the patriarch of God’s people had to be cleansed and to be made holy.

 “You have not yet resisted to blood, striving against sin; and you have forgotten the exhortation which reasons with you as with children, ‘My son, don’t take lightly the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when you are reproved by him; For whom the Lord loves, he chastens, and scourges every son whom he receives.” It is for discipline that you endure. God deals with you as with children, for what son is there whom his father doesn’t discipline?’” (Heb 12:5-7).

Jacob would have grasped quite clearly that these two incidents in his life were related to one-another and during the ensuing days and weeks, when he was on his own with his thoughts, tending to the sheep in the veldt, he must have thought deeply about it. 

The enemy of souls could even have attacked him, causing him to doubt whether the promises of God would come true, as also happens to us when we sin. It is then when we need to distinguish clearly between chastening and retribution (punishment).  A tree bearing fruit, is pruned in order that it may bear more fruit, not because the owner hates it and wants to punish it because it is not bearing sufficient fruit (John 15:2).

When Jacob confronted Laban with what had happened, he just shrugged his shoulders, countering that in their culture, it was just not done to give out the younger daughter in marriage before the older one. (You old scoundrel!)

 Ointment on the raw wounds.

Then, to ensnare Jacob to work for him for another seven years without compensation, he offered that, at the end of the bridal week with Leah, he could immediately marry Rachel (29:27). 

Laban was a crafty manipulator. He himself did not work much but spent a lot of time sitting under the veranda, planning how he could wangle circumstances to trick other people to work for him.  How could Jacob have refused this offer?   Did he not desperately desire to marry Rachel?  Therefore, shaking his head sadly in defeat, he acquiesced, and this time, married his beloved Rachel, and slept with her.

In this way, the Lord had at least softened the blow, but what a bitter-sweet marriage feast this was in comparison to the one to which he and Rachel had been looking forward to for seven years.

 The bitter fruit of Laban’s fraud

Laban had caused Jacob to commit polygamy which probably did not trouble him, but what he did not realize, was that he had caused his two daughters to become life-long competitors or even enemies.  Sin always bears bitter fruit.

 The shiny side of Jacob’s character

It is terrible to have to work hard for seven years for a wife you never wanted in the first place and then having to live with her for the rest of your life; taking care of her and her children in all their needs!  Jacob’s reaction to this injustice done to him, was commendable.   He did not threaten, like Esau, to kill his deceiver, Laban, but accepted Leah as his wife, looked after her and slept with her so that she could have her own children.

 Wives at war

As was customary in those days, Laban gave each of his daughters a slave girl as personal servant; to Leah he gave Zilpah and to Rachel, Bilhah (29:24; 29:29).  These two names are important, because the sons of these women would also become patriarchs of God’s people.

So, within two weeks Jacob was the better for four ladies:  two wives, and two slave women but this was not a fortunate or blessed situation at all, because Leah was very jealous of Rachel since she was Jacob’s darling wife.  So, she birthed one son after the other in a desperate but waisted effort to make Jacob love her more than her sister; this was all in vain.  She even blamed Rachel for taking her husband from her (30:15) – her emotions were continually in a cauldron of unrest and over-ruled her rational thinking, for was it not she who had highjacked Rachel’s bridegroom?

As regards Rachel, she was barren and the more sons Leah bore, the higher her frustrations and jealousy flared up until one day, it boiled over onto Jacob and she yelled at him, “Give me children, or else I die.”  But he certainly was not to blame, for he was fertile and was conceiving children with Leah and, in time, became the father of twelve sons and a daughter!  On another occasion, on returning from the veldt, totally spent, Leah awaited him along the way and shamelessly demanded: “You must come to me tonight because I have honestly hired you with my son’s mandrakes (love apples)” (30:14-16, So 8:13) and for the sake of peace he had to meekly do as she had commanded – sleeping with her that night. (a Mandrake could have been a fruit which they believed worked fertility in a woman.)  

Rachel described this competition between herself and her sister as follows: 

 “I have wrestled with my sister with mighty wrestlings, and have prevailed.”. (30:8, WEB). 

When the two women were, for a period, unable to conceive children, they even used their slave women to bear them sons.

 Who won and who lost; which race?

Although Rachel was more beautiful, Leah was more fertile and gave birth to six sons, just as many as Rachel and the two slave women had birthed together. 

Furthermore, it seems as if she had a more intimate relationship with God than Rachel and took her problems to Him in prayer (29:32,33,35 and 30:17). 

Her sons also played a greater role in the kingdom of God than those of Rachel.  Yes, Rachel’s eldest son, Joseph became the preserver of lives for his relatives, the Egyptians and many other people during the seven years of drought which came later on, but Moses, who lead God’s people from Egypt and by whom the Lord gave the first five books of the Bible, was of the descendant of Leah’s son Levi. So also was Aaron, from whom stemmed the priest order (Ex 2:1) as well as the Levites that served at the tabernacle and the temple (29:34).  Her son Judah (29:35) became the leader of all the tribes of Israel and from him their greatest king, David, as well as the Son of God the Saviour of mankind was born.

One must not give up hope when it seems as if you have less talents or when, due to circumstances beyond your control, you land up in a weaker position than others; trust God and let Him fertilize your life as He pleases.

 God’s plan found its way through the confusion

As pointed out before, apart from these five role players in the Jacob family, God also was still there, working unobtrusively in the midst of all the strife, raising up for Himself twelve men that He would use as patriarchs for His covenant people, Israel. 

Jacob clearly intended to marry only one wife, as did his father and grandfather, but because of Laban’s scheming, he now had four women to sleep with and God had a fourfold greater gene pool from which to start his nation. This was a good start for they would not be allowed to marry anyone outside of their clan.

Praise the Lord!  He is greater than all the doings of mankind.

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