Okay, so I have been a bit hard on the Biblical brothers, maybe… not that they didn’t make it easy for me. Of course, there were probably plenty of instances of sibling rivalry among sisters that were not mentioned in the Bible because they did not contribute to the bigger picture. As we go further into Genesis, we get the opportunity to see a sister sibling rivalry in action. Jealousy, as usual, is the cause.
After Jacob’s treachery, he is told by Isaac to go to Laban, his uncle, and stay there. I am probably reading too much into that, but Rebekah had already told Jacob to go stay with Laban. Either Isaac and his wife had no communication going whatsoever or Isaac was just echoing what he knew his wife had already commanded of their son. Anyway, Isaac also instructs Jacob not to marry a Canaanite woman. When Esau hears of this, in an act of obvious rebellion against his parents, he marries one of Ishmael’s daughters.
Jacob has an interesting dream during which God reveals to him that he is indeed the chosen one. He sees a stairway or ramp that goes from earth to heaven. God makes some promises to Jacob (Gen. 28:13-15):
“There above it stood the Lord, and he said: “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”
A beautiful love story–with some ugly parts–follows. Jacob meets up with some local shepherds as he heads to Laban’s house. While he is conversing with them, a beautiful shepherdess comes along (and all this time most of us probably assumed shepherding was a job left to the menfolk). Jacob has asked the men where he is—I guess it is safe to say that without maps, expressways, and even discernible landmarks that was the only way he could determine where he was. He then asks the men if they know Laban, and that is when this shepherdess approaches. One of the men points her out as being Laban’s daughter: “Here comes his daughter Rachel with the sheep” (Gen. 29: 6). Jacob’s response is quite interesting. He appears to be trying to send the other men away, maybe so he could have this beautiful woman all to himself: “It is still early in the day. The sheep don’t need to be gathered. Give them some water and take them back to (the land over THERE) to graze” (paraphrased per my own interpretation, of course).
As Rachel approaches, Jacob either a) shows some chivalry, b) attempts to impress Rachel with his strength, or c) all of the above as he rolls away the stone at the mouth of the well and waters his uncle’s sheep. He kisses Rachel and weeps: Maybe he is overcome by her beauty, or perhaps his emotion is at the revelation of finding his bride. He knows he is supposed to marry one of his cousins. Jacob reveals his identity to Rachel, and she rushes home to tell her father. Laban hurries to meet his nephew, embraces him and kisses him, and invites him into his home.
Jacob stays there for a month, apparently helping Laban with shepherding, if nothing else, which is evidenced by the fact that Laban offers his nephew wages. However, Jacob is not interested in money. Although Laban has (at least) two available daughters, Rachel and Leah, Jacob has his eyes set on the younger of the two, Rachel. The Bible says that Leah’s eyes were weak. This could mean that either she had poor vision, or that she did not have the sparkle that Rachel’s eyes had. I believe the term “weak” refers to the dullness, lack of sparkle and lack of life more than I think she was going blind.
I’m going to ask my husband if he would do this for me when he gets home: Jacob offered to work for Laban for seven years in exchange for Rachel’s hand in marriage!!!! Mind you, that was Jacob’s initial offer, not Laban’s. He could have said seven months, one year, two weeks… but he offered seven months right off the bat. Laban “agrees” to the deal, and seven years goes by. Keep in mind that during this time, Jacob and Rachel were kept apart. Unmarried men and women were not allowed time alone. There was no sex involved during the seven years, just work on Jacob’s behalf. The following is a beautiful passage of Scripture:
“So Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because he loved her” (Gen. 29: 20).
WOW! That’s a pretty powerful testament to Jacob’s love for Rachel. However, Laban has no intention on honoring his side of the bargain. When Jacob requests Rachel to be formally married so that they may be able to finally make love (can you blame him), Laban tricks him by providing Leah instead. This is interesting to me: According to the Bible, Laban had prepared a great feast to honor the marriage between Jacob and Rachel. I wonder at what time did he concoct the plan to deceive Jacob, and how much of it was his idea, or was Leah involved in the initial treachery as well? And how much did Leah and Rachel resemble each other, enough to where Jacob did not know the difference between the woman he had worked to secure for seven years and her sister, in whom he had shown no interest? I can only assume that at this great feast, Jacob must have done a great deal of drinking. (That is my assumption. Please note that the Bible does not say that). The reason I think that is because of how the information is presented: “When the morning came, there was Leah..!” (Gen. 29: 25).
I have never had a one-night stand, but I can draw parallels between this scene and one involving a drunken tryst between two people who were otherwise strangers. Although this Biblical scene involved a husband who assumed he was sleeping with his wife (in a sense he was, but it was not the wife he wanted), I can imagine that the same surprise Jacob felt when he rolled over and saw Leah is similar to that of a person who rolls over and has to confront the awkward situation of determining how to part from someone you hadn’t intended on sleeping with in the first place. Sidebar: There is something magical about alcohol (not in a good way)—it brings out our worst inhibitions and dulls our ability to practice good sense and rational thinking. Mix alcohol with a nightclub and there is often a recipe for disaster. I can only imagine the “morning after” in one-night stand situations: What is the initial conversation like? “It was fun, see you around”? I don’t know, but I digress J
Of course Jacob was ticked and questions Laban. Laban’s excuse is unacceptable. He explains to Jacob that it is not a common practice for the younger daughter to be given in marriage before the elder. Whether or not this is true, I am not sure. I understand it may have been a custom, but what I do not believe is that it had to be followed as though it were a law. I am inclined to believe this explanation was simply a part of Laban’s plan to secure Jacob’s service for several more years. Laban makes Jacob what I consider an outrageous offer: To finish the bridal celebration week with Leah, and then Jacob can have Rachel in return for seven more years. It was like he had done nothing wrong! Laban’s brazen attitude is absolutely amazing.
I wonder how Leah felt, being treated like a commodity? Again, I wonder what role she played in this plan. Was she a willing participant, or was she just obeying her father? I would not have wanted to be in her position. I would never want to be forced on a man who wants my sister! Whether or not Leah was a major player in this, she is going to suffer some consequences later on in terms of her relationship with both Jacob and her sister.
Anyway, Jacob agrees to this. The Bible specifically states that Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah. Leah is just the underdog in this entire story, and one may feel some sympathy toward her. However, the Lord was looking out for Leah, and when he saw how Jacob loved Rachel more, he enabled for Leah to become pregnant (you have to wonder how much Jacob hated Leah, don’t you? She did not just have ONE child, she had several… so obviously there were at least a few times that he did not hate her) while Rachel remained childless.
Let the games begin!
Leah is the mother of Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah. What she says after bearing each of her sons and naming them shows us that she is unhappy:
After giving birth to Reuben:
“It is because the Lord has seen my misery. Surely my husband will love me now.”
“Because the Lord heard that I am not loved, he gave me this one too.”
Levi, from who would come the priestly line of Israelites, including Moses and Aaron:
Now at last my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.
“This time I will praise the Lord.”
How sad. I love having been able to carry my own children, but I would rather not to be thought of only in terms of my capacity to produce a male heir for my husband. I would also hate thinking that my husband’s love for me is only tied to my ability to have sons. Regardless if Leah was complacent in the initial deception or not, it is obvious now that her lot in life is a lonely one, save for her children.
In comes the rivalry:
“When Rachel saw that she was not bearing Jacob any children, she became jealous of her sister. So she said to Jacob, ‘give me children, or I’ll die?” I was kind of tickled by Jacob’s response: “Who am I, God? I’m not the one who is keeping you from having children!” (Paraphrased).
Here comes the old slave-substitution, of which I am not too fond. Rachel gives her husband her servant Bilhah, so that Jacob may sleep with her, impregnate her, and Rachel will mother the baby. SMH. I suppose I am looking at the situation with 20th and 21st century lenses, because the idea of giving my husband another woman in order for her to have his baby, then claiming the baby as my own is absurd. (I am not talking about surrogacy or adoption, because in those cases, the mother is a willing participant. I highly doubt Bilhah wanted to have her baby claimed by Rachel, but who knows). Bilhah becomes pregnant and gives birth to Dan. She becomes pregnant a second time and gives birth to Naphtali.
Rachel’s statements are odd to me after each of these births. Again, I am looking at this from a modern perspective. Upon Dan’s birth, she says, “God has vindicated me, he has listened to my plea and given me a son”. Um, not really. He gave Bilhah a son. After Naphtali, she says, “I have had a great struggle with my sister, and I have won”. How so?
It is definitely game time. Leah gives Jacob her servant, Zilpah. Zilpah bore two more sons, Gad and Asher. Two episodes that follow illustrate how Leah and Rachel feel about each other, and how they treat their marriage. During the wheat harvest, Reuben presents his mother was some mandrakes (from my understanding, a mandrake is some type of poisonous plant that was thought to have positive effects on women who have difficulty conceiving, hence Rachel’s interest in them). Rachel requests some of the mandrakes, and the exchange between the two sisters proceeds as follows (paraphrased):
Leah: “It’s not enough that you have taken my husband, now you want some of my son’s mandrakes too?”
Rachel: “If you give me the mandrakes, you can sleep with Jacob tonight”.
Either Leah was unaware of the potential power of mandrakes or she really wanted to be with Jacob that night. After all, the central aspect of this rivalry is the ability to give Jacob children, sons in particular. Why would Leah give Rachel something that may aid her in conception? I don’t know. Regardless, Leah’s request to Jacob is odd to me as well:
“So when Jacob came in from the fields that evening, Leah went out to meet him. “You must sleep with me,” she said. “I have hired you with my son’s mandrakes.” So he slept with her that night.
Que romántico! (Not !)
Is this how things happened in this marriage regularly? Two sisters bartering with each other to sleep with their shared husband? Number one, GRODIE. The very idea of me sleeping with the same man as my sister, and willfully so, is absolutely disgusting. Number two, the language here threw me and my 20th and 21st century rationality WAY off: “I have hired you..?” Holy cow! She has to hire her husband to sleep with her? Oh my.
Leah goes on to bear three more children:
Issachar, of whom she says: “God has rewarded me for giving my servant to my husband”. This I question. God doesn’t do sloppiness, and this seems sloppy. I understand it was in the cards for Jacob to have twelve sons, but was the giving of the servants necessary, or would God have continued to provide Leah and Rachel with the children naturally had they not came up with their own plans?
Of Zebulun, she says: “God has given me a precious gift”. Fair enough. Children are precious gifts from God. But the rest of this comment interests me: “This time my husband will treat me with honor, because I have borne him six sons”. Apparently Rachel is still the apple of Jacob’s eye, or else Leah would not have had to resort to bartering to get her husband to make love to her. Also, I wonder why she is still thinking that having sons is the ticket to Jacob’s affection—obviously after five sons he is not treating her any better, so why would the sixth be the charm? Again, it is easy to sympathize with Leah here.
Dinah is the first daughter we hear of Jacob fathering. Now it’s Rachel’s turn. She gives birth to Joseph, saying “God has taken away my disgrace”, and “May the Lord add to me another son”.
Were these women really interested in having all of these children or were they more interested in one-upping each other? I don’t know.
I’ll bet that was one tension-filled household, probably worse than living with Sarah and Hagar. But, moving on…
When the fourteen years of servitude is up, Jacob is ready to take his huge family and move away from Laban, but again, Laban has other plans. Jacob’s presence has caused an increase for Laban, and I am sure he wants to secure his wealth (Gen. 30:27-30):
But Laban said to him, “If I have found favor in your eyes, please stay. I have learned by divination that the Lord has blessed me because of you.” He added, “Name your wages, and I will pay them.”
Now it’s time to negotiate an end of tenure contract. Jacob said to him, “You know how I have worked for you and how your livestock has fared under my care. The little you had before I came has increased greatly, and the Lord has blessed you wherever I have been. But now, when may I do something for my own household?”
Laban asks Jacob what he wants, and Jacob offers to continue to tend the flocks in exchange for the speckled or spotted sheep and goats, leaving Laban with the “choice cuts”, if I may. You would think Laban would have been happy to approve this deal. Jacob would move his family and his newly secured flocks three distances away from Laban, tended to by Laban’s sons. Removing the spotted and speckled from the bunch decreased the incidence of those animals producing more spotted and speckled sheep and goats, and so Laban’s flocks would undoubtedly produce more “choice cuts”. His wealth was secure, but he was not satisfied. This guy is greedy!
Jacob’s manipulation of his flocks as described in the Scriptures below is super-confusing and I have to admit I do not have a handle on exactly what he was doing and why. Supposedly, the use of these sticks or poles was thought to influence breeding, but I don’t know (Gen. 30:37-43):
“Jacob, however, took fresh-cut branches from poplar, almond and plane trees and made white stripes on them by peeling the bark and exposing the white inner wood of the branches. Then he placed the peeled branches in all the watering troughs, so that they would be directly in front of the flocks when they came to drink. When the flocks were in heat and came to drink, they mated in front of the branches. And they bore young that were streaked or speckled or spotted. Jacob set apart the young of the flock by themselves, but made the rest face the streaked and dark-colored animals that belonged to Laban. Thus he made separate flocks for himself and did not put them with Laban’s animals. Whenever the stronger females were in heat, Jacob would place the branches in the troughs in front of the animals so they would mate near the branches, but if the animals were weak, he would not place them there. So the weak animals went to Laban and the strong ones to Jacob. In this way the man grew exceedingly prosperous and came to own large flocks, and female and male servants, and camels and donkeys”.
Laban’s sons, who are tending to Jacob’s flock, report to their father that Jacob has grown wealthy off of Laban’s flock (obviously disregarding the fact that Jacob is responsible for the initial wealth, since it is he who has been taking care of the sheep for at least fourteen years!). Laban’s attitude toward Jacob changes. At this time, God commands Jacob to return to his homeland. Jacob sends for his wives and tells them that it is time to go, and that their father has changed his wages ten times (imagine that!).
Laban’s deceit and greed has undoubtedly influenced his children. Remember when Jacob first arrived? Laban had greeted him with a warm embrace and a kiss. Now he has his own sons and doesn’t need Jacob. I am unsure if Laban had sons before Jacob’s arrival. Maybe he did, but “adopted” Jacob as a result of seeing how his wealth increased due to Jacob, and now has no need for him. Laban’s sons are also concerned about Jacob possibly having claim to some of their inheritance. Additionally, when Jacob tells his wives they are leaving, they acknowledge that Laban no longer holds them in favor, either. He has sons, and his daughters are just baggage. They make the decision to go along with their husband. Laban no longer needs these three commodities. He had sold his daughters for fourteen years’ worth of work, gotten rich, and kept the proceeds to himself. Which leads me to again wonder if he was truly concerned about honoring the “custom” of making sure his eldest daughter was married first or had he been trying to secure the blessings that came along with Jacob’s presence the entire time.
Jacob and his family leave without telling Laban, but before they go, Rachel steals something of her father’s… “His household gods”. There is no other way to interpret that than Laban was worshiping idols. What I do not understand is why Rachel took them. One source that I researched suggests that this idol was symbolic of Laban’s wealth and/or authority, and perhaps Rachel took them to give to Jacob. That is kind of curious, because if Rachel believed in God, why would she think Jacob needed some sort of idol? I do not get it.
Laban purses Jacob and Co., angry because of his wealth and because of the theft of the idol. When he catches up to them, Laban scolds Jacob for leaving without notice, saying he would have thrown them a great feast if he had known (yeah, right). He is unable to convince Jacob to return, so he searches Jacob’s possessions for the idol, which Rachel hides up under her body, claiming that she cannot get up because she is dealing with a female issue.
Laban has been used as an instrument to develop Jacob’s character and faith in God. Remember this is the same Jacob who tricked his own brother. Now, he realizes that God is responsible for his plight (Gen. 31: 42):
If the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had not been with me, you would surely have sent me away empty-handed. But God has seen my hardship and the toil of my hands, and last night he rebuked you.”
Finally Laban understands that it is over. He requests that Jacob refrain from taking any more wives and warns him against mistreating them. (Interesting). They make a covenant, have a feast, and before Jacob and Co. make their departure, Laban kisses his daughters and grandchildren and blesses them. I guess he figures that he has lost and may as well let them go on good terms.
More later. Motherhood calls.