It’s Day 5 of the True Love Challenge, and I’m ready to dive right into Jacob and Rachel’s story with you. Let’s go!
Read Genesis 29–30.
If you find yourself saying, “Hold on . . . what?” as many times as I do, I don’t think we’re alone. The details of Jacob and Rachel’s relationship are intriguing, to say the least.
The story is messy and awkward to read aloud in Sunday school—even though we often remember this chapter in God’s story with this one very fairytale-esque line: “So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.”
Swoon! Seven years of manual labor flying by in a flash because he’s head-over-heels in love with his promised bride? That’s the stuff dreams are made of, am I right?
But that’s about the only swoon-inspiring part of their story, because what happens next feels like the trickery of your nightmares. Jacob’s uncle, Laban, gives his oldest daughter, Leah, to be Jacob’s wife instead (Gen. 29:21–26).
I call foul! Jacob toiled single-heartedly for the woman he was in love with. And now he’s been tricked and stuck with Leah? Nope, this can’t be. Do-over. (At least, that’s how I always saw the situation through my child eyes in Sunday school. True love needs to play out on those flannelgraphs!)
Laban seemed to enjoy having Jacob under his scheming thumb; interesting, because Jacob was a trickster himself. (I seem to remember a teensy issue about a birthright and his brother Esau . . . see Genesis 27 for that wild account.)
So Jacob opts for the do-over. He takes Leah as his wife, and he works another seven years for his beloved Rachel (Gen. 29:30). Count it up—that’s fourteen years of labor for the woman he loved. That, my friends, is devotion.
Wrap it up, call it a fairy tale, and move on to Joseph and the coat of many colors, right? Not even close, because what follows next in the story is where things get even more complicated.
Pregnant, Yet Unwanted
We like to cheer for Rachel, don’t we? She’s the beautiful one, the sister who was misled by her father, the one who battles infertility for years. She longs for children—is utterly desperate to give birth to a son—and no matter her efforts, she feels forgotten by God.
But we can’t forget Leah, the sister with tender eyes. Imagine how she might’ve felt . . . utterly unwanted comes to mind. Competing with your sister for the affections of the same man? Gut-wrenching. Leah knows that Rachel is the beautiful one Jacob loves, but maybe, if she can produce enough sons, just maybe, Jacob will value her like he values Rachel.
Take a peek at Genesis 29:31–35:
When the LORD saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren. And Leah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Reuben, for she said, “Because the LORD has looked upon my affliction; for now my husband will love me.” She conceived again and bore a son, and said, “Because the LORD has heard that I am hated, he has given me this son also.” And she called his name Simeon.
Again she conceived and bore a son, and said, “Now this time my husband will be attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.” Therefore his name was called Levi. And she conceived again and bore a son, and said, “This time I will praise the LORD.” Therefore she called his name Judah. Then she ceased bearing (emphasis mine).
She was unwanted—hated even, in her words in verse 33. Do you think Jacob resented Leah as just a big mistake? Scripture doesn’t tell us, but the use of “hated” gives us some strong clues to the way Leah might’ve been treated. But all those months of pregnancy. All those births. (Without modern medicine; those women are truly warriors!) All that dreaming of finally doing something right to earn feelings of love and affirmation . . . it never worked. So when she had Judah, she said, “This time I will praise the LORD.”
I love this. She’s unwanted, she’s got a brood of boys, and she realizes that her disengaged husband won’t satisfy her longing soul. She praises God alone for the gift of a child, not as a bargaining chip that will gain her earthly love.
Dearly Loved, Yet Barren
Then there’s Rachel, who’s trying everything she possibly can to one-up her sister in the nursery wars. She hasn’t conceived a baby, so she offers her slave to Jacob as another child-bearing path. She also offered Leah a night with Jacob in exchange for mandrakes, a plant that was believed to increase a woman’s fertility. She seems to be taking rather desperate measures.
And that’s what we do when we long for something we believe will satisfy us, isn’t it? We try anything. We try everything. We get desperate.
Consider this: Rachel had Jacob’s heart. He loved her! Shouldn’t she feel desired, affirmed, secure, and satisfied? But in this world where your children were your worth, she believed she didn’t have any value at all. So she’ll do anything she can.
Two sisters, both desperately longing for something they believed would satisfy, both needing to find their hope in God alone.
God does remember Rachel and allows her to conceive a son, Joseph.
Then God remembered Rachel, and God listened to her and opened her womb. She conceived and bore a son and said, “God has taken away my reproach.” And she called his name Joseph, saying, “May the LORD add to me another son!” (Gen. 30:22–24).
A Messy Story with Many Lessons to Teach
We could unpack this unique love story for days. There’s so much to uncover in these passages, and I’d encourage you to keep digging in. But let’s make some big picture applications here.
1. A man’s love won’t satisfy your heart.
If we pick and choose those swoon-worthy verses from this story, it’s tempting to think we finally have the biblical example to find that man who’s willing to drop everything in order to scoop us up and put a ring on it.
And when you’re longing for love, we often get caught up in believing this lovely yet deceptive idea: Once I find a man, I’ll be so secure, so happy, so confident, I’ll be good for life!
But once the wedding vows are spoken, life goes on, and the chapters that follow can be difficult. Downright painful, even.
A thriving relationship and marriage can make you secure, happy, and confident, but it won’t truly satisfy the deep longings of our hearts.
Jacob and Rachel (and Leah’s!) story reminds us that while a relationship might have deep love, we won’t be shielded from difficult circumstances, and other unmet longings can capture our attention.
Rachel had her devoted man but then viewed children as a way to prove her worth. Leah had children but felt the heart-crushing absence of love. Our deepest strongest longings, even for good things, should drive us to place all our hope in God. He can shock us with the satisfaction He showers over us.
2. God saw the sisters’ pain and stepped in with grace.
When the LORD saw that Leah was hated . . . (Gen. 29:31).
Then God remembered Rachel . . . (Gen. 30:22).
God saw the hurt. He saw the longings. He is a kind Father who isn’t blind to His daughters’ struggles.
He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names. Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure (Ps. 147:3–5).
Compassionate to see our broken hearts and piece them back together. Powerful to create and number the stars. Wise beyond our comprehension.
This means that He sees you, He cares for you, He is powerful to answer your prayers, and He is wise to give you what you need at the right time. It may not be what we desire or think is best, but because of who our God is, it will be good.
3. Messy stories aren’t bad stories.
Let’s be real here. Some of these details are strange.
- Jacob really didn’t realize it was Leah whom he had married?
- Rachel and Leah are offering their slaves to sleep with Jacob to produce more sons?
- Rachel is bartering away her husband for a plant?
But those are the page-turning details God used to write His story of redemption. The twelve tribes of Israel were produced from Rachel, Leah, and those servants. If we follow the family lines of Judah, the son Leah thanked God for, we discover that Jesus, the Messiah, is included in that family tree.
A messy story used in God’s world-saving, redemptive plan.
We’re undeserving, aren’t we? Sinners who mess up, mislead others, lunge after false and disappointing gods, and take matters into our own hands . . . used, nonetheless, for God’s purposes. That’s grace and kindness right there.
Your Challenge for Today
Grab a journal and a pen, and write down what stood out to you in today’s passage, Genesis 29–30.
Then consider these questions, and journal your answers:
- Do fantasies about love and romance grab my attention often? Have I been deceived by any of those fantasties? (Like the one we discussed: Everything will be dreamy once I get married!)
- Have I been dreaming of the day a man’s love will satisfy my heart? Have I been looking to a guy (a boyfriend, fiancé, or even husband) to fulfill my need for love and value? How could God’s steadfast love change where I’m going to get my “love bucket” filled?
- How encouraging is it that God uses messy stories for His glory? Has my story been messy in any ways? How could God redeem those missteps or mistakes and rewrite something beautiful?