Gripped by Grace: Over My Quest for One True Love (Gen. 29:1-35)
In a recent article in Relevant Magazine, Laura Edwards described a reality check she had with something she loved for many years: Disney fairy tales. She says, “When I was younger, I would dream up my own fairytale life and watch it play out in my mind. When I imagined my young adult self, I was always tall, thin and beautiful, with incredible poise. And I could sing really well.”
However, now an adult and upon watching a recent Disney film, it dawned on her how pathetically unrealistic these movies can be. She notes, “Every morning when Cinderella wakes up, she leans out of the window and sings a beautiful ballad. After summoning nature with incredible vocals, the mice and birds help dress her. Perhaps that is how she gets her special glow. Wouldn’t it be nice? Even on her worst day, Cinderella could pull off an apron and headscarf.” She humorously replies, “Most days I throw on sweatpants or elastic workout shorts because I don’t feel like wearing clothes that cling to my body. On the occasional morning when I feel like making myself presentable, it takes an hour of yanking a straightening iron violently through frizzy hair and applying a few coats of makeup. It’s a job.”
She adds, “Snow White takes a bite of a poison-filled apple. She falls to the floor gracefully and enters into a deep sleep where she looks absolutely flawless while waiting on the prince to kiss her. In real life, if I were given a poisonous apple, I would groan, turn green and then run to the nearest restroom where I would spend several hours lying on a cold floor near a toilet. I might even need to have my stomach pumped. Later, I might lie in bed for hours to sleep it off. I would slowly develop a serious case of bedhead, and red lines from my pillow would start to indent themselves on my face. On the off chance that a boy decided to come into my room and kiss me, he would immediately reconsider.”
I am not against Disney movies, but they show us something deeper about human nature. We are all on a quest for “one true love.” Really the quest is to not so much that we want to find someone to love, but for us to feel loved and to know we are lovable. This is why breakups are hard to bear. We start to think perhaps we are not wanted. But we want to be fully known and fully loved. Our capacity for such romantic love comes out the fact that we are made in the image of God (Gen. 1:27-29). We are made to love and be loved since God is love.
However, there is a problem when we make a good thing into a god-like thing. In our culture, God is not love, but love has become God. Don’t you hear people say this when they are “in love:” He worships the ground she walks on. Dean Martin wrote a song long ago called, “You’re nobody until someone loves you.” Your identity is wrapped up in having romantic love, he says.
Pastor Tim Keller tells us that:
“…romantic love is an object of enormous power for the human heart and imagination, and therefore can excessively dominate our lives. Even people who completely avoid romantic love out of bitterness or fear are actually being controlled by its power. I once knew a man who said he had been so disappointed by women that he now engaged only in on-commitment sexual encounters. No longer would he be manipulated by love, he boasted. In response, I argue that if you are so afraid of love that you cannot have it, you are just as enslaved as you must have it. The person who can’t have it will avoid people who are wonderful partners. The person who must have it will choose partners who are ill-fitting to them or abusive. If you are too afraid of love or too enamored by it, it has assumed a godlike power, distorting your perceptions and your life.”
Jacob’s story looks like it’s moving into a fairy tale. He is finally growing up a little. He lived his entire life deceiving people. He deceived his brother out of a birthright and his father out of a death-bed blessing. He finally ends up on the run, away from home and without anything except the clothes on his back. Yet in the midst of this, God still comes to him and in an act of amazing grace, treats him better than anyone has ever treated him. God tells him that he will get land, seed and descendants and even God’s presence. He doesn’t say how or when, but the fact that he will. Jacob at the end of Gen. 28, seems like he’s maturing in his faith, but only time will tell.
All his life he has been on a quest: for blessing, for power, significance and status. None of those things are wrong, except when we want them apart from God and in the place of God. He lives to grab these things whenever he wants and however he wants from whomever he wants, except God wants to grip this heel grabber with grace. Today, for Jacob, he will try to grab true love, only to find himself heartbroken. This story starts up like a fairy tale, but ends up like a horror movie, except, as we will see, that God is writing something more beautiful than we can imagine. Let’s start with this:
I. The providence of God is often painful yet purposeful (vv.1-20)
You might remember back in Gen. 24, we talked about divine providence. The Providence of God is the way God cares for, cooperates with and directs all things to accomplish God’s purposes. The providence of God is usually very quietly working behind the scenes. Jacob has this amazing encounter with God and he’s pumped for where God will lead him. He’s going to get land, descendants, which means a wife and God said He was going to be with him right? Jacob went on his journey literally reads, “then Jacob lifted up his feet.” God meeting him gave him encouragement to keep going. He is happy. Remember that this is a 400-mile journey and he’s probably only done about 60 miles of it.
But life is going to be great now right? By the way, notice the term “east” in v.1. In Genesis, it is always bad news when someone goes east. It is always in the context of judgment (4:16) or vanity (11:2; 13:11) or alienation (25:6). This is because in Genesis, going east meant going away from God and the Promised Land. Your identity was tied up in God and moving away from the Lord meant you were losing your identity, the very essence of who you were. For Jacob, having gone east will mean betrayal and heartache.
In Gen. 29:2-3. And he comes upon a well, where shepherds and three flocks of sheep are laying around. This story is sounding a lot like how Abraham’s servant found Rebekah for Isaac! Apparently, “The stone over the well prevents people or animals from stumbling into it (wells did not have protective walls), guards against contamination, and appears also to have served as a means of regulating its use.” With his questions, we see that Jacob had no idea where he was.
Notice in Gen. 29:4-5 that he does not thank the Lord or recognize the fact that God in His providence was leading him to people who actually knew his family! He should have been like, “Thank you God! You kept your promises. You are with me. You led me thus far!” The servant in Gen. 24 is constantly praying and seeking God but here Jacob does not.
It makes me wonder if we do not see God’s hand working because we are not looking for them? Perhaps God is speaking, but our worlds are too noisy to hear him? Perhaps the right prayer is not that God be with us, but that we might look for Him? Perhaps the right prayer is not that God speak to us, but that we might have ears to hear?
Again, divine providence. It is the right time to be at the well because in Gen. 29:6, the shepherds tell Jacob, there is the daughter of Laban, Rachel, coming now. Cue the romantic music. Freeze the frame and slow it down. A lady walking towards you with sheep is like a girl driving a nice car or a boat. Sheep were a sign of wealth.
Notice he tries to shoo off the shepherds in Gen. 24:7. “Back to work, men, I got me some business to take care of!” I think it is love at first sight. This is Lot, seeing the well-watered land, like the Garden of Eden and being captured (Gen. 13:10). Like him, Jacob thinks, “This is it. This is my dream come true. This is what I have been waiting for my entire life! It is Paradise Regained. Hello Eve. I am Adam. I believe one of those ribs belongs to me.” Remember the servant testing for character and praying? Jacob? No. He’s got this. All by himself. So what do you do when you meet the woman of your dreams for the first time? You try to impress her. You pick up something heavy. You grunt like you’re about to give birth while doing it. See how strong I am. I can lift you up too. In what would be something done by two or three shepherds, Jacob singlehandedly and miraculously moves the stone by himself so the shepherds could feed their sheep! And then he takes care of her sheep! He appears hardworking, caring and industrious in Gen. 29:7-10.
Remember this is how Rebekah won over the servant’s heart. The text is not clear and I’m not sure if I am reading into it, but I see scheming going on. I see Jacob acting like Esau again, trying to appear like someone he’s not. Once again, his heart is set on something and he is very ambitious. This is a good thing, but a bad thing if God is not first. He is so excited. Without even introducing himself, he jumps up, hugs, kisses and weeps on Rachel in Gen. 29:11. We are not exactly sure what his motives are. Is he leapt up in joy over finding family, is it love or love plus wealth? Is it because his journey is over? No mention of God or gratitude for leading him. Regardless, he has found something he wants and Jacob is going to do what he does best: go after it and take it.
Laban is excited to see Jacob in Gen. 29:12, perhaps thinking about what happened the last time this happened. Abraham’s servant brought ten camels and lots of jewelry. So he comes out drooling. But Jacob has come with absolutely nothing. Laban’s heart has always been set on riches. So if he is not going to receive riches as gifts, he will use Jacob to get rich.
What things did Jacob share with him (Gen. 29:13)? About the scheming, lying and cheating? He probably made it sound like he was a victim. Laban replies, “Surely you are bones of my bone and flesh of my flesh!” This is what Adam said when he saw Eve for the first time (Gen. 2:23). It was phrase that indicated oneness. Laban and Jacob are “cut from the same cloth.” He might be just saying that he is excited that they are relatives, but as the reader, we know Jacob and Laban are very similar. In fact, Jacob will be “Jacobed” by Laban. Laban is a master schemer himself.
About a month later, Laban appears to be very gracious and caring for Jacob according to Gen. 29:15. Just because Jacob is related to him does not mean he can’t pay the guy. This sounds nice on the surface, but we know Laban is just greedy. Now I am sure Laban knew what Jacob wanted. He’s been watching him for a month. Jacob is in love and he will be exploiting this. One commentator says, “What Laban should have done as a loving relative is to help Jacob get a start on building his own home.” Laban’s smooth talk reduces Jacob to a lowly laborer under contract. Their relationship for the next twenty years is that of an oppressive lord over an indentured servant paying off a bride price, not of an uncle helping his blood relative.
Jacob, probably not anxious to get home, says “seven years.” He is lovesick. Remember that if you wanted to marry someone in those days, you would give a bride price, which was a certain amount of money. Since Jacob did not have that, he asked to work for it instead. Still, he volunteers to work 4x as long as was needed. And Laban agrees, taking advantage of the situation. This is not a loving uncle. This is a greedy master. Notice he doesn’t says who “she” is. Waltke says, “Laban’s answer is shrewdly ambiguous. He does not explicitly agree to give Rachel to Jacob after seven years. The prayerless patriarch is not discerning enough either to see through his uncle’s character or to detect the ambiguity of “her.” And this is going to be only the beginning of Jacob’s struggles.
Why does God allow this? Why didn’t God show up earlier and say, “Don’t go to Laban. He’s out to cheat you. Run the other way!” God allows this. We often think of the providence of God as something awesome and positive for our lives. And so it is. However, God is out to transform us rather than transforming our circumstances. God is out to make Jacob into a man of God who loves him above all and transform him into a father of faith, through whom the nation of Israel would come an through whom God would rescue the world. And that transformation is almost always very painful. In fact, as we shall see, Jacob will return to the land, limping and not as Jacob, but as Israel.
You cannot get wine unless your crush some grapes. Unless a grain of sand irritates the oyster, there is no pearl. Until we confront all of our counterfeit loves, our false trusts and functional Saviors and remove them and replace them with Jesus Christ, we will never grow. It was my father’s rheumatoid arthritis that drove our family to the Savior. Spurgeon says,
“I have learned to kiss the wave that tosses me into the Rock of Ages.”
The waves of life will toss us around. Some of us will get cancer here. Some of us might lose a loved one. Some of us will get surprising news. The Bible doesn’t say all things are good. The Bible says, “God WORKS ALL THINGS FOR THE GOOD of those who love him (Rom. 8:28). And His good is always to make us more like Jesus in perfective and painful love. Is there room in your theology for pain and suffering? I pray when the waves hit us, we may learn to kiss them as they throw us into the arms of God.
John Piper adds,
“Life is not a straight line leading from one blessing to the next and then finally to heaven. Life is a winding and troubled road. Switchback after switchback…God is for us in all these strange turns. God is not just showing up after the trouble and cleaning it up. He is plotting the course and managing the troubles with far-reaching purposes for our good and for the glory of Jesus Christ.”
II. The promises of the world always cause disillusionment and disappointment (vv. 21-34)
Jacob cares nothing about money. He is in love. Seven years of hard labor. This is admirable, but also sad. He thinks, “Once I get Rachel, I’ll be ok. My life will have value. She will complete me.” I wonder what would happen if people served God with so much love knowing that they will get God at the end? What if Jacob put his deepest hopes and longings on God instead of a person?
So at the end of seven years, Jacob says, “Give me my wife!” In Jacob’s mind, Rachel is already his wife. He demands her. He is desperate. And typical Jacob is impatient. I guess we would be too if we were waiting for seven years. And notice Laban does not respond. He ignores this and throws a feast.
Gordon Wenham explains, “Normally, a wedding involved processions to and from the bride’s house, a reading of the marriage contract, and a large meal attended by both families and neighbors. The first day’s celebration ended with the groom wrapping his cloak around the bride, who was veiled throughout the ceremony (24:65), and taking her to the nuptial chamber where the marriage was consummated. However, the feasting and celebration continued for a whole week. So instead of Rachel, Laban veils up Leah. Wenham notes, “The lateness of the hour, the veiling of the bride, and maybe a little too much drink allowed Laban to substitute the unloved Leah for the promised Rachel.”
See what’s happened here. In Gen. 27 two brothers were exchanged by a trick, before a blind man; in Gen. 29 two sisters are exchanged by a trick in the darkness of night and behind a veil, which eliminate Jacob’s … sight.” And when it was morning, it was Leah! Jacob couldn’t believe it. He is outraged. This is like a bad Jerry Springer episode or a reality show of some sort. Laban pretends like Jacob is in the wrong. Don’t you know the firstborn gets the rights? The firstborn issue all over again. Not again! And Laban licks his lips and says, “Work for me for seven more years.” Jacob is crushed. But he agrees!
He is addicted to love. One woman says, “Men were my alcohol. Only if I was on a man’s arm could I face life and feel good about myself.” An older man leaves his wife for a younger woman because he wanted to hide the reality that he was aging. Another young man finds a wife desirable only until she sleeps with him, after which he loses interest in her. Why? Women are just a commodity to help him feel desirable and powerful. Another guy looks for a beautiful woman to be his wife because only then his life can be validated. Keller adds, “Our fears and our barrenness makes love a narcotic, a way to medicate ourselves, and addicts always make foolish, destructive choices.”
Someone else is deeply affected by all this. Leah! Look back at Gen. 29:17. Leah’s “eyes were weak.” What does this mean? It can’t mean that she had poor eyesight because then it would say, “But Rachel could see really far away.” So her “weak eyes” might mean she was either cross-eyed or her eyes protruded out or something. She was unattractive and had lived all of her life in the shadow of her sister, who was absolutely stunning. And Leah means “cow.” We might shake our heads at this, but it was not a demeaning term in that agricultural culture. Rachel means “Ewe lamb” or “little lamb.”
As a result, her father knew no man would ever want to marry her or offer any money for her. I’m sure he was wondering how he was going to get rid of her, so he might get a good bride price out of Rachel. So Leah was a daughter her dad did not want only to be— look at Gen. 29:30—the wife her husband did not want. She was the girl nobody wanted.
So how does Leah handle this? She set’s her heart on getting Jacob’s love. Sons were prize commodities in those days so she thinks, “If I have babies and sons, then my husband will come to love me.” So she has one son after the other and Jacob does not love her. Keller observes, “Every birth, pushed her down deeper into a hell of loneliness. Every single day she was condemned to see the man she most longed for in the arms of the one in whose shadow she had lived all of her life. Every day was like another knife in her heart.” A couple of applications here:
a) Singleness and marriage are callings not identities
You can see Jacob driven here by his desire to marry. Brooks Waldron writes, “How many times have you heard someone say, “He’s such a great guy, how is he still single?” Or, “She’s such a catch. When will she get married off?” The implication behind such questions is that great men and women get married, and those who are not great do not. For many, being single imprints upon them a meaning that touches their very identities: They are defective, second-rate, somehow less than others who marry. In response to this message, Scripture teaches that single Christians are not defined by their singleness, but by their union with Jesus Christ. Singleness, like marriage, is a God-given calling, not an identity. The calling of singleness does not stamp upon the single person an identity any different from a married person.”
b) Don’t make people into pseudo-Saviors
If you put your deepest longings and hopes on a person, whether to marry that person or in marriage right now and if you are looking for that person to “complete you,” then you will be devastating him or her with those expectations. There is no human being, not even your best or ideal one, that can give you all that your soul needs. Keller adds, “With all due respect to this woman [Leah], [this] means that no matter what we put our hopes in, in the morning it is always Leah, never Rachel.” If we are hoping that unending affection and affirmation from a beautiful and brilliant romantic partner will finally make us feel good about ourselves or make us feel lovable, then you are looking for those things in the wrong place. Biblical love is never about how much we are going to receive, but how much we are willing to give of ourselves to someone. It is sacrificial commitment to the good of the other.
Where do we find this true love?
III. The love of God is never stopping, never giving up, unbreaking, always and forever (v.35)
Look what happens to Leah. She is bearing children for Jacob to earn his love, but it doesn’t work. But at the same time, notice that she is calling upon the name of Yahweh. That is the personal name of God. Jacob must have shared with her about the God of his fathers, though he himself has not reached out to the Lord like she ends up doing. Finally after years of childbearing, she gave birth to a fourth son, Judah and notice what she says, “This time, I will praise the Lord.” No mention of husband or child. She seems to have finally taken her deepest hopes off of her husband and her children, and put them on the Lord.
God does something else for her. In Gen. 49, we are told that through Judah, one day, the true King, the Messiah will come. God comes to the girl nobody wanted, the unloved, the hated and decides to make her the ancestral mother of Jesus. When God saw that Leah was not loved, He loved her. “Leah, I am your true husband, the real bridegroom. There is only one set of arms that will give you all of your heart’s desire and await you.” What amazing grace! He loves the unwanted. He loves the weak. He loves the unloved. He is ravished with us, even those of us whom no one else notices.
Why does God treat Leah this way? And why does God reach out to this today in the same way? When God came to us as Jesus Christ, he was truly the son of Leah. Jesus became the man nobody wanted. Isaiah says that he had no beauty that we should desire him (Is. 53:2). Everyone abandoned him, even his own father. Why did he become the man nobody wanted? For us. He didn’t work a few years to pay the bride price. He gave his life, his blood for us Leahs. On the cross, He was despised and rejected, so we can be loved and accepted. We no longer need to be beautiful for him to love us. He loves us with all of his heart. And we are beautiful to him because he loves us. Do you believe that? Does that move your heart? One day, soon and very soon, we will see Him. We will finally fall into His arms. He will remove the veil and He will not be disappointed. We are the one He has always wanted. His love never stops, never gives up, it is unbreaking, always and forever.
Edwards, Laura. “The Truth about Disney Love,” http://www.relevantmagazine.com/life/relationship/blog/28275-the-truth-about-disney-love accessed 5 July 2012.
Keller, T. (2009). Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power and the Only Hope that Matters (31). New York: Riverhead Books.
Waltke, B. K., & Fredricks, C. J. (2001). Genesis: A Commentary (400). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Hamilton, V. P. (1995). The Book of Genesis, Chapters 18–50. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (252). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Walton, J. H. (2001). Genesis. The NIV Application Commentary (585). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Waltke, B. K., & Fredricks, C. J. (404).
Waltke, B. K., & Fredricks, C. J. (405).
Keller, T. (35).
Waltke, B. K., & Fredricks, C. J. (405).
Piper, J. (2010). A Sweet and Bitter Providence (101-102). Wheaton, IL: Crossway.
Wenham, G. J. (1998). Vol. 2: Genesis 16–50. Word Biblical Commentary (236). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.
Fokkelman in Waltke, B. K., & Fredricks, C. J. (403).
Keller, T. (33).
Keller, T. (35).
Keller, T. (36).
Keller, T. (37).