Then Jacob went on his journey, and came into the land of the people of the east.
After his encounter with God at Bethel, Jacob finally arrives:
And Jacob said unto them, My brethren, whence [be] ye? And they said, Of Haran [are] we. And he said unto them, Know ye Laban the son of Nahor? And they said, We know [him].
Not only is he at the right place, but he’s at the right time:
And he said unto them, [Is] he well? And they said, [He is] well: and, behold, Rachel his daughter cometh with the sheep.
He’s also given a golden opportunity to prove himself to Rachel (Rachel , ewe):
And it came to pass, when Jacob saw Rachel the daughter of Laban his mother’s brother, and the sheep of Laban his mother’s brother, that Jacob went near, and rolled the stone from the well’s mouth, and watered the flock of Laban his mother’s brother.
There’s a certain symmetry, or perhaps irony, in that he returns the favor his mother did for Abraham’s servant when he was searching a wife. Not that he loses any time:
And Jacob kissed Rachel, and lifted up his voice, and wept.
Let’s assume that was a chaste kiss (nashaq) for the moment. Why did he wail (bakah)? Was it discovering family after having been cast out to wander alone? Was it relief that God had kept his promise to provide for and guide him? Was he just overwhelmed by Rachel? Or perhaps combination of all that, and more.
And Jacob told Rachel that he [was] her father’s brother, and that he [was] Rebekah’s son: and she ran and told her father
I see the family hasn’t lost its penchant for running (ruwts):
And it came to pass, when Laban heard the tidings of Jacob his sister’s son, that he ran to meet him, and embraced him, and kissed him, and brought him to his house. And he told Laban all these things.
So far, so good. But, the plot thickens:
And Laban had two daughters: the name of the elder [was] Leah, and the name of the younger [was] Rachel. Leah [was] tender eyed; but Rachel was beautiful and well favoured.
Not sure what Leah’s problem was, but given the contrast with Rachel it couldn’t be good. Certainly not good enough for Jacob:
And Jacob loved Rachel; and said, I will serve thee seven years for Rachel thy younger daughter.
I know sometimes people think that romance is a modern invention, especially since arranged marriage is the norm in traditional cultures. What they fail to realize is that true love (‘ahab) can bloom quite well (some might say better) even without dating:
And Jacob served seven years for Rachel; and they seemed unto him [but] a few days, for the love he had to her.
The days (yowm) may have flown by, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t impatient:
And Jacob said unto Laban, Give [me] my wife, for my days are fulfilled, that I may go in unto her.
In passing, it is interesting how some cultures require men to buy a wife, whereas others require a father to endow his daughter. At least Laban throws a good wedding:
And Laban gathered together all the men of the place, and made a feast.
However, one can’t help but wonder whether that was partly to get Jacob too drunk to notice:
And it came to pass in the evening, that he took Leah his daughter, and brought her to him; and he went in unto her.
The similarity to Jacob’s deception (ramah) of being Esau is hard to overlook. As a man sows, so shall he reap. The consequences are almost comical:
And it came to pass, that in the morning, behold, it [was] Leah: and he said to Laban, What [is] this thou hast done unto me? did not I serve with thee for Rachel? wherefore then hast thou beguiled me?
Laban rationalizes his behavior:
And Laban said, It must not be so done in our country, to give the younger before the firstborn.
I’m sure he thought he was doing Leah a favor, and Jacob no harm:
Fulfil her week, and we will give thee this also for the service which thou shalt serve with me yet seven other years.
Well, what’s another seven years among family, right? He gets the girl, this time up front:
And Jacob did so, and fulfilled her week: and he gave him Rachel his daughter to wife also.
But, at what price?
And he went in also unto Rachel, and he loved also Rachel more than Leah, and served with him yet seven other years.
I’m sure Laban did what he thought best, which was more or less lawful at the time. But was it good? Was Leah really any better off as a despised secondhand wife than as a scorned maiden? Regardless of the cultural forms, everyone wants to be loved. To be cherished, and valued, and accepted. To be thought worthy.
There’s a wonderful book on singleness my friends and I used to discuss called Pure Joy, which talked about an antique table. The salesperson had marked it down, but after a customer tried to talk it down further she changed her mind and marked it back up — and the customer still bought it! And treated it like an $800 table, not a $300. The moral is that when we sell ourselves short, we devalue ourselves; but we honor the things that cost us more. And we honor ourselves according to the price paid for us, like Johnny Lingo’s Eight-Cow Wife.
Rachel had the double blessing of being counted a 14-year wife. Poor Leah begins married life cursed as a stand-in.
God, the metrics have changed, but all too many couples today have lost their value, either before or after their marriage. Help me to love my wife in accordance with the price you paid for her. And to honor myself as well. Grant me the grace to raise up children with a knowledge of their true value, that my son or daughter will know they are worth more than eight cows or fourteen years. And not settle for anything less from those who claim to love them. Amen.