Archdeacon Michael Smart
The Bible does contain history, but often it is more helpful to read the bible as we read a novel…identifying with the characters, …recognizing ourselves in the choices they make, the issues they face, deciding which character we favour , what actions we reject.
This is how we will hear today’s story about Jacob’s desire to marry Rachel and Laban’s tricky plan to marry off his eldest daughter first. ( Gen. 29:15-28 )
Jacob was cheated..ever felt cheated out of what you desired ?
But, Jacob had previously cheated his elder brother Esau out of their father Isaac blessing… More..their mother, Rebekah, was a schemer on behalf of her favourite son.. She waited till Esau was out hunting, then pushes Jacob into the room to get the almost blind Isaac’s blessing…
So, we have a plotting mother , a scheming father, a younger sibling competing with an older sibling….and the rivalry continues within the human family.. the USA and North Korea is in God’s eyes the age old sibling rivalry still dangerously being worked out..and what about the power of a blessing or a curse..once spoken words cannot be taken back…”I wish I had never said that”…..” I remember when you said”
Jacob complains ! Laban justifies his deceit. “ This is not done in our country to give the younger before the firstborn”. Is it God’s law that the eldest daughter should be married first or that the eldest son inherits the fathers wealth ?
Marriage customs have varied through the centuries. In Jacobs’s day the custom was that if a man had sex with a woman, then they were regarded as married.
That Jacob didn’t know who he was in bed with, is a bit of a worry…perhaps it was the affects of the wedding feast..perhaps Laban made sure the room was very dark, perhaps Leach wore a veil….anyway according to custom by the morning Jacob was married.
Arranged marriages have often been the custom..to ensure property and wealth and nobility were passed on to the right people…even child marriages took place to ensure royal blood was protected or political or financial security was assured. God’s law or human custom ?
In our theological education on marriage we were asked to discuss this situation. …” If a couple are stranded on an island, with no hope of rescue, can they covenant together, make a commitment to each other and so regard themselves as married before God? ” I think we would agree, they are in God’s eyes as married.
Sadly today, for some couples, this commitment is missing when they move in with each other. It is this lack of commitment that worries God and should worry us, for without commitment the stability and health of family life and consequently the well being of society is at risk.
Laban now gives Rachel to Jacob as well…that is called polygamy !! Was Laban willingly breaking God’s laws or was his understanding of God’s laws still developing ?
There is strong support for the view that in the Bible there is progressive revelation….meaning that God’s people take many years to eventually come to an understand of what the Lord requires of them. It is not that God changes his mind, but that people take time to understand the mind of God.
Hearing God, understand God’s will, is often found as we grapple with our experiences… we wrestle with God…wrestle, not because we want to be disobedient, but we are asking what is the inner meaning, what is it that matters most to God ?
The story tells us that Jacob loved Rachel more than he loved Leah….can you feel the pain of Leah? ….no matter what Leah does she is second best. Then comes some telling words in the story..” When the Lord saw that Leah was unloved, he opened her womb.”
God feels the pain of the rejected…the outcaste..the unloved. ” What kind of people did Jesus heal? ”…the leper, the mentally disturbed, the widow’s son, the foreigner, the unclean woman with her issue of blood…. those less loved, the outcaste…not so much that Jesus healed people, but what kind of people he healed.
One way to be agents of the Spirit of God is to work at making people feel valued, appreciated….we are called to be “other person” centred, to make a conscious choice to look beyond ourselves..…in our conversations to check whether we are listening to others or mainly asking others to listen to us. You might have been a patient in hospital and found your visitor, after polite “ how are you”, then spends most of the time telling you about their operation !
Western society has become increasingly individualistic…walls, literal and emotion walls have gone up…A reporter commenting on the floods in Houston, made this amazing observation…” people are actually helping each other, reaching out to each other, it is wonderful”… hello ! Isn’t it meant to be like this all the time?
Nations are withdrawing back into “our territory”… “ We will make America great again”..how..by withdrawing into ourselves and keeping others out !!!!!
There is a powerful image given us regarding the work of Christ…” He breaks down the walls that divide”
Back to Jacob. What happens in his family.. Jacob loves his younger son Joseph more than the others and once again the family is a nest of rivalry. Joseph is nearly murdered by his brothers before they sell him into slavery in Egypt.
Where is God’s hand in this saga…read the last chapter of Genesis ….Joseph forgives his brothers and they are reconciled..hatred is rooted out through forgiveness..the struggle for supremacy is replaced with co-operation…by the end of Genesis there is family stability…and with family stability God can now build a nation. ( Book of Exodus) God works for family stability, needs Christians to see each other as sisters and brothers, without denominational divisions and The One God, for there is only One Creator of us all, calls on the nations of the world to treat each other as fellow human beings.