Genesis 29, Psalm 103, Romans 8:31-39

July 25, 1999 by Tad Mitsui

When my father and mother fell in love with each other, such romantic love was barely tolerated but was not considered to be socially acceptable. Normally marriages were arranged in Japan. So, Mom and Dad used to see each other in secret. They walked together but separately on both sides of the street. When they got married, they had to appear as though an officially appointed intermediary, usually a position reserved to a highly placed personality in a community, arranged it, in order to make it look socially acceptable.

You must realize that a marriage as the result of romantic love is relatively a new phenomenon. Even in the nineteenth century Europe, marriages were negotiated by the families as a part of business, political, or social arrangements. Romantic love during those days was a favourite subject only in operas and poems but was not a serious matter to be considered among the respectable families. Also you must remember that for many centuries, polygamy was a common practice. It was an insurance to keep the family property within the blood relations at the time when infant mortality was extremely high. More infants died than those who survived. So, it was important to produce many children. Polygamy was openly practiced especially among the upper class people who had a lot to lose if they were childless. Virtual polygamy continued to be practiced, even after the introduction of Christianity. Those, who could afford, took concubines openly without any social stigma even at the turn of this century. When you read the story of Jacob”s marriages to Leah and Rachel, you must understand that it happened nearly four thousand years ago. You have to keep in mind the history of social practice to read it, no matter how distasteful the story may sound today. The Bible does not sugar-coat the truth to suit the opinion of the readers. Despite the ugliness of human behaviour, God”s blessing was never in doubt.

Jacob, Leah, and Rachel were all victims. It all started when Jacob fell in love with Rachel. He asked Laban for Rachel”s hand, but he was a penny-less fugitive. So he agreed to work for Laban without wage for seven years. Meanwhile, the older daughter Leah was getting too old for marriage. So, during the seven years when Jacob was working for him without wage, Laban made a plan to take advantage of Jacob”s weak position. The morning after the wedding night, Jacob discovered that he slept with a wrong woman. He was tricked into marrying Leah. When he went to the father-in-law in anger, Laban sweet-talked Jacob into a deal for him to marry Rachel, by giving seven more years of free labour. What a treachery! On the other hand, you could say "a trickster got tricked, and Jacob deserved it."

Leah was a real victim. She was forced into a relationship with a man who loved someone else. She eventually had nine children with Jacob, but she knew that she was only a sexual object and a child making machine. Can you imagine such a humiliation? The worst was the fact that, though she was completely innocent, she was seen as a part of her father”s malicious deception. Leah must have reminded Jacob constantly of her father”s treachery. Which is why, even though Leah bore him many children, none of them was Jacob”s favourite child. Jacob loved Rachel”s two boys. Life was especially unfair to Leah. But what is most amazing and wonderful about Leah is, though she had to suffer a great deal because Jacob loved her sister, she never hated Rachel nor was jealous of her. Leah loved Rachel until the end.

Leah was a pearl. A mother of pearl does not expel a foreign object like a grain of sand in her body. Rather, she tries to lives with the pain by secreting liquid, rich in calcium carbonate, to coat the source of stress. This is how a beautiful greyish blue pearl is made.

It was not a happy-end for Rachel either. In fact, Jacob”s love brought to Rachel nothing but grief. Because her father, Laban, promised her to Jacob, she had to wait for fourteen years for her turn to be married. The Bible does not mention how Rachel felt about the whole deal. In those days, a woman”s feeling about her future spouse was almost completely beside the point. Because of the deal, Rachel was not eligible for other marriage options. She had to wait far too long, when an average life expectancy was less than forty years. That”s a big chunk of time out of her life. So, of course, when she got married to Jacob at last, it was not easy for her to have children. In fact, she died giving birth to her second child.

Jacob, Leah, and Rachel were all victims, just because Jacob fell in love with Rachel. What do you make of a story like that. You might say that the Bible tells it as it was, and there is no moral of the story. Certainly there is nobody who can be anybody”s role model. Until some time ago, some people who believed in the subservient status of women touted Leah as the model of woman”s obedience. This is a dangerous interpretation and I don”t agree with it. It may be possible to draw a lesson about the futility of treachery. You may be able to say that deception never pays. But it is a weak argument, because some people like Laban gets away with it.

I believe that the message of the passage is in the contrast between God”s love and the reality of human nature. God works among us despite dirt and muck of human conditions. God never gives up on us, and fulfils his promise of blessing. He turns suffering into joy as he endures it, and a cesspool of wickedness into a fountain of holiness. Like the mother of pearl, God does not spit us out because of our iniquity. He keeps us within, enduring endless pain. Leah and Rachel were victims of human treachery. But God made them pearls for us to remember.

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