God, Behind the Scenes: Reflections on Genesis 29:15-28

One can only imagine the scene in the morning. Laban gathers his cronies outside Jacob's tent, poking them in the ribs, warning them about the sight they are about to behold. As the sun comes up, and the tent is illumined, Jacob finds himself hooked to Leah! In hilarious rage, Jacob rails at his uncle (who is no doubt enjoying every minute of this), "What is this you have done to me? Did I not serve you for Rachel? Why then have you deceived me" (29: 25)? This out of the mouth of one of the Bible's greatest deceivers! And through gales of laughter, Laban replies, This is not done in our country—giving the younger before the firstborn" (29:26). It is a wonder that Jacob does not splutter something like, "Well, you might have told me that before!"

But Laban can now afford to be magnanimous, now that he has achieved his goal, well-planned from the beginning, of marrying off Leah, and says, "Complete the week of this one (apparently the couple had to cohabit for a week to make the marriage legitimate) and we will give you the other also in return for serving me for ("ah, let's see, how about") seven more years" (29:27)! So Jacob does so, and eventually marries Rachel, also. But the fact remains that "he loved Rachel more than Leah" (29:30).

What are we to make of all this? The earlier themes come back again. The order of the birth returns to haunt Jacob. As youngest child, he has received the blessing and promise, against community expectations, but now he has had this eldest-youngest problem return to his pain. As the reader will soon discover, Leah may have only beautiful eyes, but she is supremely fertile and gives Jacob a brood of children. Rachel remains childless for most of her life, giving her husband one son only. And where is God? Behind the scenes, working the promise out, despite the clever, or less than clever, machinations of God's chosen. That may have a familiar theological ring in our own time. Despite our too clever actions and desires God is working the purpose out. In that belief, we keep our hope.

7/17/2011 4:00:00 AM
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    About John Holbert
    John C. Holbert is the Lois Craddock Perkins Professor Emeritus of Homiletics at Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, TX.