Open Your Bible
Genesis 29:1-35, Genesis 30:1-43, Deuteronomy 21:15-17, Psalm 63:1-4
My family recently subscribed to a new television streaming service, one that walks me down memory lane with beloved after-school TV shows and movies that I watched as a kid. Revisiting those stories, and sharing them anew with my daughters, has been so much fun.
Narratives shape us. Good stories can awaken our desire for eternity, reminding us of the good in the world, while lifting the veil on the darkest parts of the human experience.
I think the story of Jacob and his two wives, sisters Leah and Rachel, checks all of those boxes. It is a story brewed in brokenness and stirred with deceit, envy, and deep sadness. As a kid, I thought it was so very sweet, a little like a fairy tale: How romantic that Jacob loved Rachel enough to work for seven years to marry her!
But revisiting the story as an adult unlocks deeper truths about what I’m reading. Laban used his power to deceive Jacob into fourteen years of labor. Leah was cast aside and considered ugly, while Rachel gloated over her favor with Jacob—that is, until Leah bore sons, while Rachel could not. What a desperately sad story about two broken marriages, rival sisters, and a deceptive uncle who repeatedly manipulated his kin for profits.
Jacob was deceived.
Leah was rejected and unloved.
Rachel was emptied out by envy.
Laban saw profits instead of people.
When Leah bears Jacob’s sons, she names them Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah. With each son’s birth, she hopes that Jacob will love her. But by the time Judah is born, she seems to relent and refocus her affections on her God, saying, “This time I will praise the LORD” (Genesis 29:35).
Between Leah and Rachel and their servant women Bilhah and Zilpah, Jacob had twelve sons. These twelve sons would go on to be the patriarchs of the twelve tribes of Israel, and from the tribe of Judah, Jesus would be born. This son of the unloved wife would lead to the birth of the Messiah, who would bear the weight of every broken relationship.
The sad twists of this story lead us to look forward to the cross, because it is the only lens that allows us to see the grief and sadness that come from broken relationships more clearly. And yet, the good news of Jesus doesn’t change what we feel when we are mistreated, deceived, or utterly distracted with envy.
Each of those scenarios tears at our relationships with other people, inevitably causing us to see people as less than the image-bearers God created us to be. We wound and are wounded. People become objects, wrong sources of our happiness (like Rachel was to Jacob), transactional sources of labor and economic gain (like Jacob was to Laban), or they make us the victim of our own disordered desires (like Rachel did to Leah).
But Jesus takes all of that–every objectifying, victimizing, heartbreaking, manipulative, broken interaction–and instead, offers us perfect healing and a gospel-paved way to reconciliation. As we read on, Jacob will experience total reconciliation with his brother Esau. While not every relationship experiences that kind of healing in this life, as we seek to treat other people the way Jesus treats us, we can lean on the shared gift of the gospel to be the common ground of grace. It is all we have to offer.