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A Bride Worth Waiting For
Winter Quarter: Sacred Gifts and Holy Gatherings
Unit 2: Four Weddings and a Funeral
Sunday school lesson for the week of January 3, 2016
By Helen & Rev. Sam Rogers
Lesson scripture: Genesis 29: 15-30
Background Scripture: Genesis 28-30
Every lesson has both primary and background scripture for study. Never has the background scripture been more important than this week’s excursion through the twists and turns of Jacob’s search for a wife!
The search begins when his father, Isaac, sends him to Laban, his uncle, so he will not marry a Canaanite woman, as did his brother Esau. The basis of the journey to Aram/Haran (today’s Syria!) is to fulfill the Covenant made with Abraham – a Covenant of both land and the blessing of progeny through whom all the nations of the earth will be blessed. Don’t lose sight of the Covenant behind all the ancient customs surrounding this convoluted story!! We can miss seeing the forest for the trees!
The traditions and mores of that ancient culture do not fit our time. Marrying a relative, having more than one wife, sexual relations with concubines – all and more were designed to have many children! In an agrarian and nomadic society, these were not only signs of success and blessing, but a necessity. However, the real love story of Jacob and Rachel must not be missed!
On the way, Jacob spends a night, with a stone as a pillow, at a place he will name Bethel – House of God. He has a dream of a “stairway to the stars,” reaching from earth to heaven. The angelic traffic on “Jacob’s ladder” is two-way, and God is at the top. In his dream, God reaffirms the Covenant now to the third generation. Jacob, who swindled Esau out of his birthright and tricked his elderly, nearly blind father, Isaac, into giving Esau’s blessing to him, now sees an opportunity for a “real deal” to be made with God!
If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey …
(if God) will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so I can return
safely to my father’s house …
then the Lord will be my God…
and (then), of all that you gave me, I will give you a tenth…(Genesis 30:20-22)
Finally, Jacob arrives in Aram/Haran. At the communal well, he meets Rachel and falls in love with her. However, the trickster has met his match in his future father-in-law, Laban. He agrees to work seven years for Laban so he may have his youngest daughter, Rachel, to be his wife. The reason for the long journey is consummated! After seven years (that seemed to Jacob days), the week-long wedding is held. Surprise! Surprise! Guess who came to the marriage bed? Leah, Laban’s oldest daughter – not Rachel! Don’t ask us how that switch occurred! Just reporting the facts! Jacob is incensed, but Laban’s answer is cultural – can’t have the younger daughter married first!! After another week, Rachel becomes Jacob’s bride also, but not before he agrees to work another seven years.
During those seven years, Jacob is living with two wives and two concubines – oh yes, Zilpah and Bilhah are a part of the deal. Laban gave a maid to each daughter. All four of these women become the mothers of sons that will become the 12 tribes of Israel! God has a wonderful sense of humor and, truly, God’s ways are not our ways!
Preferential treatment and jealousy are a big part of the human side of the unfolding Biblical drama. Leah knows she is not Jacob’s first love, but she is mother to four of his sons – Reuben, Simeon, Levi and Judah. Leah felt, by having children, she could win the love of her husband. Rachel, like Jacob’s grandmother Sarah, took matters into her own hands and gave her maid, Bilhah, to Jacob saying, “Sleep with her so she can bear children for me and through her I too can build a family.” So Dan and Naphtali were born. Leah reciprocated and gave her maid, Zilpah, to Jacob and two more sons were born – Gad and Asher. After medicating on a plant known for sexual power, Leah bore two more sons – Issachar and Zebulun. Finally, “God remembered Rachel,” and Joseph becomes the eleventh son. (There will be a twelfth son born to Rachel later. She dies giving birth to Benjamin. Remember, Levi became the priestly tribe and did not inherit land. It is Joseph’s two sons – Manasseh and Ephraim who become the eleventh and twelfth tribes given land.) We can’t resist quoting Paul in Romans 8:28 here: “We know that in all things God is working for good …”
Each of the names of those eleven boys had meaning related to the situation. Careful reading of the footnotes will give you a clue about the names of the tribes of Israel! A fun exercise! Take time and do it!
Now it’s time for Jacob to go home to Isaac and Rebecca, but the gamesmanship with Laban is not quite over. This time the issue is property. After 14 years of indentured labor, Jacob has a large family, but no property. Laban likes things the way they are! After all, he has many grandchildren, and Jacob’s work has multiplied his holdings – why let him go? Another deal is made about the color of sheep and goats. In spite of Laban’s efforts, Jacob does him one better. Thus ends this part of the story. It’s time to go home! Stay tuned for the rest of the story! How does Jacob become Israel? What happens when he meets his estranged brother Esau? Why are all the other sons so jealous of Joseph? What do they do to rid themselves of this bothersome brother? Like a serial movie, stay tuned! (Or better, just read the rest of the Book of Genesis!)
For us, the Genesis account, complicated and bewildering, offers insight into human relationships and God’s purpose being worked out in them. Any marriage requires much hard work, forgiveness, and lots of negotiation to succeed. Many expectations of the couple are not reasonable and need changing. For example, in pre-marital counseling, Sam always asked the couple, “Where will you spend Christmas?” Inevitably, the answer would be, “at MY parents, of course.” Really? The expectation needs adjustment!
Not all marriages have the “happily-ever-after tag.” Life can be cruel, confronting couples and families with issues that must be faced. Illness, loss of
work, interference from good-meaning relatives, infidelity, breakdowns in relationship between parent and child – the list goes on! The best guidance comes from our Covenant God who offers the power of divine love to overcome all obstacles. Remember the tangled web of Jacob’s life, and know God is working in ours, like his, for the good! Not everything is good, but in everything, God is working for good! You can count on the promises of the Christ of the New Covenant. There is life; yes, there is death; and there is resurrection!
Helen and Rev. Sam Rogers are a retired clergy couple. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.