Great Moments in Bible History
What, no “happily ever after”?
A Love Story
For all their popularity these days, love stories are rare in the Bible. The most famous of the Bible love stories is the book of Ruth. That story has most of the classic elements of a modern love story, including the “happily ever after” (though it does not use those words). Outside of that story there are not very many. One reason such stories are rare may be that one of the themes running through the whole Bible is of God’s love for His people. The Bible actually ends with the story of the wedding feast when the Lamb (Jesus) marries the Bride (the people of God) (Revelation 19:7-9). Next to that story, all other love stories are pale shadows!
For the past few issues we have been following the life of Jacob. In Genesis 27 we saw how he pretended to be his older brother Esau in order to trick his father into blessing him. The trick worked, but it made his brother so angry that Jacob had to leave home in a hurry. In Genesis 28 his father told him to go to his mother’s family to find a wife. The trip must have taken him several weeks, but he finally reached his goal in chapter 29. In the very first scene at a well outside of town he met the future love of his life.You may recall the story back in Genesis 24 when Abraham sent his servant to this same town to find a wife for his son Isaac (Jacob’s father). The servant asked God to show him the right woman by having her water his camels without even being asked to. That woman was Rebekah, Jacob’s mother. In today’s story Jacob arrived at a well in a field. He asked some shepherds who were waiting there if they knew Laban (his uncle). They told him that the young lady approaching them with her flock of sheep was Rachel, Laban’s daughter. Jacob then rolled the stone from the mouth of the well and watered Rachel’s sheep.
I don’t know whether Jacob and Rachel fell in love at the well, but a few weeks later we read, “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” (Genesis 29:16-18). After Jacob stayed with the family for a month, his uncle Laban said, “Because you are my kinsman, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell me, what shall your wages be?” Jacob responded, “I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.” Laban agreed. The story continues, “So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.”
So we have the makings of a classic love story. But the story does not end in the expected “happily ever after” manner. As we will see in the next article, Jacob does not get the idyllic marriage he dreamed of during those seven years. It is quite a disappointment to us readers, though nothing like the disappointment it must have been to him! Certainly God was capable of giving Jacob a great marriage. As we will see, the reason God chose not to do that is because He had a more important goal in mind for Jacob.
The story immediately jumps to the end of Jacob’s seven years of service. Jacob said to his future father-in-law, “Give me my wife that I may go in to her, for my time is completed” (Genesis 29:21). “So Laban gathered together all the people of the place and made a feast.” So far, so good. The wedding is an important part of a good love story. But in the next verse the story takes a sharp turn. “But in the evening he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob, and he went in to her.”
To understand how such a deception was possible we have to realize that in that culture it was the custom for the bride to be veiled during the wedding ceremony. One veiled daughter would look pretty much like any other. Furthermore, it was dark and they didn’t have electric lights back then, so it was not until the next morning (when it was too late to back out) that Jacob discovered he had been tricked. Our author tells the story this way: “And in the morning, behold, it was Leah! And Jacob said to Laban, ‘What is this you have done to me? Did I not serve with you for Rachel? Why then have you deceived me?’ Laban said, ‘It is not so done in our country, to give the younger before the firstborn’” (verses 25-26).
That last phrase, “the younger before the firstborn,” is the author’s hint to us about what was going on here. I doubt that Laban knew how “on target” his explanation was. Seven years earlier, Jacob had pretended to be the firstborn when he went to his father to steal the blessing Isaac had intended to give Esau. Now the very same thing happened to him. We call such things “poetic justice,” but it was really God’s justice. God had guided events (including the behavior of Jacob’s greedy uncle Laban) to bring on Jacob the sin he had committed against his father. In the next article we will look at what the New Testament says about how God does similar things with us today. But first we need to finish the story of Jacob’s marriage.
Laban offered to “work things out” for Jacob. “Complete the week of this one, and we will give you the other also in return for serving me another seven years” (verse 27). So Jacob finished his one-week “honeymoon” with Leah (the girl he never wanted to marry), then married Rachel as his second wife. He got her on credit and had to work an additional seven years to pay off the loan. The story does not say that those years seemed to him like only a few days. In fact, they were quite painful, because his two wives constantly competed with each other for his affection. It was certainly not the “happily ever after” that he had dreamed of. His uncle had deceived him and he was stuck with the consequences of that trick for the rest of his life.
Does God Discipline Us Today?
In the previous article we saw that God brought the same sin on Jacob that he had earlier done to his father. Does God do things like that to us today? Yes, He certainly does, but it is not because God is vindictive. He is not simply trying to “get us back” and make us feel the pain we gave someone else. He has a much higher goal in mind. Here is how the writer of the New Testament book of Hebrews explained it: “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives. It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?” (Hebrews 12:5-7)
The Bible word “discipline” includes the idea of punishment, but that is not its ultimate goal. Its goal is the training of the child. Good parents train their children in order to prepare them for life. Some of that training may be painful, but ideally the pain is only what is necessary to accomplish the training. I say “ideally” because no human parent is perfect. But God is perfect. The Hebrews writer explains, “For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness” (verse 10). The discipline God gives to us is always for our good. God’s ultimate goal is for us to be holy just like He is. What an amazing goal! Surely every Christian wants nothing more than to be holy as God is holy.
In Jacob’s case, his disappointment in his marriage was part of a training process that eventually turned him away from the tricks and selfish manipulations that had been his behavior in his younger years. It will take several more years, but (as we will see in a later issue of this paper), he will eventually reach the point where he learns to trust God instead of living by his wits. He really did become more and more holy.
In the words of the book of Hebrews, “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (verse 11). That is a wonderful promise, “the peaceful fruit of righteousness.”