THE STORY OF JACOB, RACHEL, & LEAH – Genesis 27:36, 29:16–18, 31, 35 – Esau said, “Is he not rightly named Jacob [meaning, “He cheats”]? For he has cheated me these two times. He took away my birthright, and behold, now he has taken away my blessing.”…
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.”…
When the LORD saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb … And she conceived again and bore a son, and said, “This time I will praise the LORD.” Therefore she called his name Judah. Then she ceased bearing.
As we saw yesterday, the Bible certainly doesn’t sugar coat the messy behaviors of its heroes—and “messy” is being pretty charitable about it! For most of us, when we read about God choosing such morally flawed people, we begin asking an uncomfortable question: Is God not that concerned about right and wrong?
This is an unsettling question when we consider just how tempting it is today to justify evil, both in our own hearts and among the heroes who represent us. Whether it’s a pastor, a celebrity, or a political leader, I trust we’ve all had the experience: A hero of ours is “found out”—sleeping around, perhaps, or embezzling funds. Something we would categorically say is wrong. But instead, we feel the pull to minimize the wrong, to explain why it’s not really as bad as it seems. Because if our heroes are morally messed up, what does that say about us?
So when we turn to a character like Jacob, it’s reasonable to be a bit disoriented. Jacob was the son of Isaac and the grandson of Abraham. Like his father, Jacob was a miracle child, born to a previously barren woman. Like his father and grandfather, Jacob received the promise of God on his life: Through your lineage I will bless the world.
But Jacob was a moral wreck. He deceived his brother and stole from his father, severing ties so badly that he had to flee for his life (Genesis 25, 27). He found refuge in the home of Laban, a relative of his (Genesis 28). There, Jacob received a dose of deception himself: Attempting to marry beautiful Rachel, he ended up married to her sister, Leah, instead. True to form, Jacob responded by mistreating Leah, too, insisting on marrying Rachel.
This is the person God chose?
Yes and no. Yes, God chose Jacob. But if we think God chose Jacob because God didn’t care about Jacob’s sins, we misread the story. The very fact that we know so many details of Jacob’s sins is revealing: God is not attempting to minimize Jacob’s wrongs, as if they weren’t that bad after all. He is, in fact, intentionally showing that Jacob’s status as “chosen” begins and ends as a gift.
We must learn to unread the Bible as a collection of fairy tales. Now, don’t get me wrong. I love fairy tales. In college, I took an entire course on fairy tales, reading all 209 stories collected by the Brothers Grimm. I even wrote a few myself. Fairy tales are delightful for the way they capture wisdom in memorable and surprising ways. We need more fairy tales in the world.
But the Bible is not a book of fairy tales. Not only because what is written in the Bible is true but also (and more importantly) because the Bible isn’t chiefly meant to give us tidy stories with specific moral lessons. In the Bible, we are not learning about human heroes. We are learning to know God.
Those God chooses, like Jacob, are not heroes. They are broken recipients of grace. The entire trajectory of the Bible leads us not to seek out heroes, men and woman who are broken like us (Jacob), but to anticipate the one hero who would be broken for us (Jesus).
And then there is this: Jacob is not the only chosen person in this story.
Jacob didn’t choose Leah. But God did. In fact, God seems to have chosen Leah precisely because she was unchosen by Jacob. And eventually, though disappointed by her husband, Leah was able to say, “I will praise the Lord.”
Leah couldn’t have known it at the time, but God was using her, not Rachel, to continue his line of blessing. He was using her to bring Jesus into the world.
When Jesus came, it was both for people who did wrong (like Jacob) and for people who were wronged (like Leah). In other words, he came to be with people like you and me.
List three to five situations in your life where you can’t see what God is up to.
How might Leah’s experience make you think of these situations differently?