Friday, December 5, 2008

Jacob's Two-Timing Marriage

Having just stolen Esau's blessing, Jacob flees so that his brother, Esau, will not kill him. His mom tells him to go live with her brother, Laban. His father, Isaac, tells Jacob that he should marry one of Laban's daughters. In other words, Jacob is told to marry one of his cousins.

So, Jacob heads to Laban's place. He meets his cousin, Rachel, at a well, and it was love at first sight. What unfolds is another chapter of Biblical marriage values.

Jacob's Two-Timing Marriage
In Genesis 29:15-30, we find the heartwarming story of Jacob's marriage to his cousin, Rachel. Jacob agrees to work for seven years for his uncle, Laban, in exchange for the hand of Rachel in marriage.

Laban had two daughters, Rachel and Leah. From the description given in Genesis 29:16-18, it seems that Rachel was quite sexy and beautiful, while her older sister Leah was, well, not.

Seven years fly by in the labor of love. The time has come in Genesis 29:21:
Then Jacob said to Laban, "Give me my wife. My time is completed, and I want to lie with her." NIV
It's no mystery what goes on in a marriage. Still, most people have more tact than to tell their soon-to-be father-in-law that the time has come to have sex with their daughter. Or perhaps this is evidence of the culture of the time; that women were just possessions to be used.

Moving on, Laban throws a big wedding party. After the party, in the dark of night, Laban brings Leah, instead of Rachel, to Jacob. Jacob has sex with Leah. In the morning, he wakes up shocked and angry that it is Leah in his bed, not Rachel.

What?!? This is a bit hard to swallow. Having recently deceived his father, Jacob should have been sensitive to deceptions. He should have figured out this deception sooner than morning. He knew both Rachel and Leah for seven years. Seven years!!! Surely he could tell their differences.

Jacob wasn't blind, so he could have recognized Leah by lamp light, but we'll give the Bible the benefit of the doubt and say that he had no lamp and that it was pitch black. Jacob could have recognized Leah was not Rachel by scent, but we'll assume Leah had bathed that night so she didn't have much scent.

Jacob should have recognized Leah's voice. His own voice was almost the end of his deception to his father, so he should have been rather sensitive to that. However, it's not uncommon to have siblings sound alike, and it is certainly possible that Leah learned to mimic the sound of Rachel's voice. So even different voices could be dismissed.

There is still one infallible piece of evidence that should have given Leah's deception away. While all women look the same in the dark, all women do not feel the same in the dark. As documented in the text, Leah and Rachel were physically different. Jacob had probably been fantasizing about having sex with Rachel for the whole seven years, studying every detail of her body in anticipation. He definitely should have felt the physical differences of Leah.

This leaves me wondering; did Jacob realize it was Leah, and, in the heat of the moment, just decided to have sex with her and discuss the matter with Laban in the morning?

In the story's conclusion, Jacob confronts Laban. Laban says that the older daughter needed to be married first. After the bridal week with Leah, Laban gives Rachel to Jacob in marriage in exchange for yet another seven years of labor.

But wait, there's more! In Genesis 29:31-35, it seems that Jacob didn't love Leah, but that didn't stop him from having sex with her. God punishes Jacob for not loving Leah, the one he didn't even want to marry to begin with, by granting her children while making Rachel barren.

In psychology, they call this behavior displaced aggression. That's when someone (God) is angry with something or someone (Jacob), but that angry someone takes out the anger on something or someone else that is completely innocent (Rachel). In those times, it was a very shameful thing for a woman to be barren. That disgrace fell only on the wife, not the husband.

Displaced aggression is an all too common flaw in man. One should expect more from a perfect God.

I find it interesting to note also that two of the four children born from this loveless sex with Leah wind up being the fathers of the two most significant tribes of the Jews. Her son Levi spawns the Levites, which are the priestly class of the Jewish nation. Her son Judah breeds the lineage of King David and Jesus. Well, sort of the lineage of Jesus.


  1. Just a thought. I see this less as a punishment of Rachel (can we not expect that God knew of Rachel's ultimate vindication?) than his compassion for Leah, a woman who is unloved. Imagine what she would have felt like - your husband reluctantly agrees to "spend the bridal week with you" all the while eyeing your sister! I can only imagine the pain she felt as she (as the listing of kids demonstrates) she tries desperately to get ANY affection from Jacob. When she finally abandons that pipe dream, and just praises God, then, I would think she perhaps reached some kind contentment in some form in her life.
    I think it's important to note that neither Laban nor Rachel nor Jacob consult with or were given instructions from God regarding this whole arrangement. God intervenes when He sees Leah is being treated poorly. Your note of Judah being the line from which we get Jesus (sort of, as you note) is very telling - Judah is the boy that Leah finally praises God for!

  2. Thanks for the comment, Anonymous. I can understand where you are coming from with Leah's feelings, but I don't think that adequately captures the situation. You've got to keep in mind that the entire point of Jacob working for Laban for seven years was to marry Rachel. He had already let his intention and affection for Rachel be known, but, as far as the text suggests, Jacob had shown zero interest in Leah.

    So, in your mind, do you think that Leah should have expected any affection from a man who had worked for seven years for the permission to marry Rachel?

    In that traditional society, if a woman could not have children, it was a great shame to the woman. So this was, most definitely, a hardship on Rachel caused by God, despite Rachel not doing anything to deserve. Surely a God of infinite wisdom and power could think of a way to make Jacob shed some affection on Leah without shaming Rachel in the process. Wouldn't you agree?

  3. I agree. All the way. Nice one Twf