This week in our “Confidence” teaching series, we look at what happens in Genesis 29-30, a story of when Jacob goes looking for love. Love is a core, basic human need, so even though the story of Jacob happened many years ago and took place in a drastically different culture, we still find bits of truth that help us understand what love is and how to define our love journey.
The story is found in Genesis 29-30, and through the characters of Jacob, Rachel, and Leah, we see the peaks and valleys of love. We see the joy and heartbreak, betrayal and trust, beauty and pain that comes in each love journey. Through these characters, we’ll learn about God’s heart for those who are not loved, and we’ll learn that when we confess our wounds, hurts, sin, guilt, and shame, the love of God covers us, and the forgiveness of God heals us.
In prayer this week, I will bring my real self to the real God and let him love me.
I want to start with a question today — Where do you look for love? I mean the kind of love that can fill your heart, heal your soul, change your life, and make you dance. I was reading about the dating site eHarmony and how different it is from other dating apps. On eHarmony you actually have to wait to be matched with someone you’re compatible with based on real substance. You can’t just scroll through pictures looking for hot guys or girls. Here’s why I was thinking about this. We’re in this series we’re calling Confidence. We’re looking at the life of Jacob. Last week, we looked at his messed-up family of origin. * His brother Esau was his dad’s favorite. Jacob was his mom’s favorite. * There was jealousy and unresolved conflict. * There was deception. * Jacob was left with a hole in his heart. * He pretended to be someone he wasn’t — his brother — to get the blessing he wanted. Well, this week, we’re going to look at what happens when Jacob goes looking for love. You may know that in this story he ends up with Rachel and her sister Leah and, essentially, both of their maids as well. It’s kind of a mess. It made me wonder how different the story would have gone if there had been an eHarmony back in Jacob’s day. What would Neil Warren, former founder and CEO of eHarmony, say to Jacob about the search for love? You may know this, but Neil Warren is not just a very famous psychologist. He actually is a devout follower of Jesus Christ. He has a Master of Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary. In an interview Warren said when he was looking at someone’s emotional and spiritual health, he would always start with their self-concept. He would say, just like a well-built house has a real solid foundation — you have to have a real clear sense of your identity. You have to have a sense of worth that’s deeply grounded in being loved by God. You have to be deeply authentic. No pretending, like Jacob. You have to be able to make courageous decisions that are consistent with your values, that honor God, and you don’t abdicate, trying to appease or please someone else. Last week we looked at the apostle Paul’s phrase — “Always confident.” How do I learn to live an authentically confident life? Warren said a lot of times what happens is people reach adulthood but, like Jacob, they’re still carrying emotional and spiritual baggage with them — * “I’m hurt because I wasn’t the favorite.” * Or “I can’t express emotion because there was too much distance in my family.” * Or “I don’t know how to do conflict because we avoided conflict in my family.” * Or “I have trouble with authority figures; I get real defiant or rebellious.” * Or “I have a hole in my heart that never got filled.” Then people get this idea, “I’ll get married, and that will fix my problems. I’ll find this person who makes me feel so good they will fill up that hole in my heart, and I’ll leave my old baggage behind and start over, and it’ll be great.” And it works great… for a couple days. Then I find out marriage doesn’t resolve my problems; marriage reveals my problems. So, again, the question is — where do you look for love? Jacob runs away from home. He has this vision of God. God is always going to be with Jacob, but that doesn’t bring him to full maturity. He goes to where his uncle Laban lives, and he sees a well. Now, in the ancient world, a well was the place where boy-meet-girl stories happened, kind of like eHarmony back in the ancient world. He goes to this well. There’s a flock of sheep there that belong to Laban being tended by Laban’s daughter Rachel. This is a very interesting note and relevant to the story. In the Bible, every shepherd listed is a man. It’s a man’s occupation in the ancient world. * Abraham was a shepherd. * David as a boy was a shepherd. * Moses and Isaac were shepherds. Everyone except Rachel. Her dad Laban has a lot of servants, but apparently, Rachel has chosen to be a woman in what then was a man’s field, and we’re going to see Rachel is a pretty formidable character. This is how they meet. When Jacob saw Rachel daughter of his uncle Laban, and Laban’s sheep, he went over and rolled the stone away from the mouth of the well and watered his uncle’s sheep. Then Jacob kissed Rachel and began to weep aloud. (Genesis 29:10-11) This is kind of an unusual dating approach. I don’t generally recommend the “Kiss her and start sobbing” approach. But Jacob is a long way from home. He’s very vulnerable. Remember we talked last week about having authority but also being vulnerable. He’s very vulnerable, and maybe he thinks, “This is the woman who’s going to fill that hole in my heart.” She takes him home to meet her dad Laban. Now I want to talk about Laban for a minute. There’s some very interesting stuff going on here. Laban actually is in the Bible earlier in Genesis. Jacob’s grandfather Abraham sent his servant to this same spot, the same well, to find a wife for Jacob’s dad Isaac. In answer to a prayer, he found that a young woman named Rebekah was the one. So Abraham’s servant gave her an extremely expensive gold nose ring and gold bracelets. This is what the text says: Now Rebekah had a brother named Laban, and he hurried out to the man at the spring. As soon as he had seen the nose ring, and the bracelets on his sister’s arms, he said, “Come, you who are blessed by the Lord.” (Genesis 24:29-31) When he sees the bling, he gets religion. Can you imagine a culture where men would put gaining financial success above the well-being of their own family? How twisted is that? It’s all over this story. It’s all over Genesis. It turns out that the tricky greedy little Jacob has a tricky greedy little uncle Laban. Now, a whole generation later, Rebekah’s boy, Jacob, comes to the same well, and he sees a girl, Laban’s daughter. * But Jacob has run away from home. * Jacob has no money. * Jacob has no bling. * He’s not putting any gold on this girl. So Laban invites Jacob to his home and allows him to work for nothing for a month. At the end of that time, Laban says to Jacob that as long as he’s going to stick around and work for him, he probably should get paid, so they can negotiate his salary. Laban asks Jacob, “What do you want?” Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. Leah had weak eyes, but Rachel had a lovely figure and was beautiful. Jacob was in love with Rachel and said, “I’ll work for you seven years in return for your younger daughter Rachel.” (Genesis 29:16-18) Seven years’ worth of wages was the equivalent back then of way more money than what would normally have been given for a bride. The idea in this text is Jacob is crazy irrationally in love with this woman Rachel. Laban said, “It’s better that I give her to you than to some other man. Stay here with me.” So Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her. (Genesis 29:19-20) For seven years, he dreams about Rachel. He thinks about Rachel. He gazes at Rachel. He sighs for Rachel. Rachel is in his mind when he’s sleeping at night. She’s all he wants. Those seven years go by like nothing. Jacob goes to Laban at the end of the seven years and demands his wife. There’s a big feast. Apparently there’s a lot of drinking. Here’s what happens. But when evening came, he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob, and Jacob made love to her. When morning came, there was Leah! [I’ve talked with a lot of people who say, “Very early I knew I’d married the wrong person.” Jacob may have set a new record. He wakes up in the morning and there’s Leah.] So Jacob said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? I served you for Rachel, didn’t I? Why have you deceived me?” (Genesis 29:23-25) You’ve got to love this. The irony in this story is so rich. Jacob has been a deceiver since he was in the womb. That’s why he got the name Jacob, grabber of the heel, deceiver. That’s his name. He cheated his brother. He deceived his father. He colluded with his mother. Now he says, “Frankly, Uncle Laban, I’m shocked and appalled that you would be deceitful, that you would do such a thing.” This is great. Laban replied, “It is not our custom here to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older one. Finish this daughter’s bridal week; then we will give you the younger one also, in return for another seven years of work.” (Genesis 29:26-27) You have to get the irony here, because this is a big part of the story. This is a big part of the learning. What we saw last week was — there was a trickster. Jacob was the trickster, and he deceived a victim, his father Isaac, into thinking that the younger child was really the older child. This week, there’s a trickster, only now it’s Laban, and he deceives the victim, only now Jacob is the victim not the trickster. Laban deceives Jacob into thinking that the older child, Leah, was really the younger child, Rachel. The con man is getting out-conned. Now, there’s a remarkable grace to all of this — Jacob is beginning to learn one of the laws of the kingdom, one of the laws that everyone has to learn if we’re to grow up in Christ. The apostle Paul put it like this — You reap what you sow. Remember now there are only three generations of Israel: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. There’s no Old Testament yet, no Ten Commandments. Jacob is beginning to learn that he lives in a moral universe. He’s beginning to learn that there’s another character in this story, and that character is God, and that character loves him, but love doesn’t always shield you from pain. And of course, that character — God — is in your story and my story too. We’ll continue with this part of Jacob’s story in just a moment. Announcements Alright, let’s continue in the story of Jacob and Rachel… and Leah. Jacob made love to Rachel also, and his love for Rachel was greater than his love for Leah. (Genesis 29:30) Now we have to talk about Leah. Just like Jacob grew up being “Not Esau” — that was his identity. Leah’s identity was “Not Rachel.” Rachel was the pretty one. When people went scrolling for hot babes, they went after Rachel. No one who was scrolling for hot babes landed on Leah’s profile. Imagine growing up in a culture where your worth as a woman is defined by your physical appearance — body image, body type, the shape of your face, your skin, your race, your age. External characteristics that have nothing to do with your soul determine whether you get fawned over or ignored. Now imagine a culture where getting married and having children is the only dream a girl was raised to know. Where do you find confidence for life? Imagine in that world having a father who believes the only way he can marry you off is to fool your sister’s fiancé into sleeping with you by mistake. — “When morning came, there was Leah.” Can you imagine the pain behind those words? Jacob thinks he’s getting Rachel, whom he loves, and when the morning came, there was Leah. When the morning came, Leah wonders, lying there in that bed, “What will Jacob say? Maybe he will be kind. Maybe he will be tender. Maybe he will understand the pain of a broken heart and a gaping wound.” But he doesn’t. — “His love for Rachel was greater than his love for Leah.” Then the main character in this story comes in for the first time in this whole chapter. The Lord saw that Leah was not loved. (Genesis 29:31) Do you understand? * Rachel didn’t see this. * Laban didn’t see this. * Jacob didn’t see this. God saw. God sees. God cares. God acts. Leah’s identity is, “I’m not Rachel. I’m not the pretty one. I’m the one Jacob doesn’t love.” God sees, and God says, “I’m going to do something for little overlooked under-loved Leah.” She begins to have children. Here the story is incredibly poignant. Neil Warren has actually written about this. He says this becomes the story of a woman yearning to be loved by her husband and not knowing how to make it happen. This has happened for hundreds of years to millions of spouses. It happens still. Maybe you know this pain of aching and trying to get love from that person. Listen to the text. Leah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Reuben, for she said, “It is because the Lord has seen my misery. Surely my husband will love me now.” (Genesis 29:32) Oh, the pain of that. She thinks, “Surely now his eyes are going to light up for me the way his eyes light up for her. Surely now he’s going to hold me. He’s going to whisper things to me. Surely now this baby is going to fix our relationship.” But it doesn’t. The text goes on. She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said, “Because the Lord heard that I am not loved, he gave me this one too.” So she named him Simeon. [“Because the Lord heard I am not loved. Maybe this time.”] Again she conceived, and when she gave birth to a son she said, “Now at last my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.” So he was named Levi. (Genesis 29:33-34) All of these names and the stories of an ache and a wound and a desire for love. It doesn’t happen. She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said, “This time I will praise the Lord.” So she named him Judah. Then she stopped having children. (Genesis 29:35) With the fourth child, she finally stops the heartbreaking plan that she can do something that will get her the love she so desperately wants from her husband. Maybe she gave up hoping her husband would ever love her. Maybe she decided she would try to find the love that could fill the hole in her heart from a better source — “This time I’ll praise the Lord.” “The Lord saw that Leah was not loved.” I just want to say if you feel not loved * If you feel not healed * If you feel not strong * not pretty * not smart * not successful * all alone — the Lord sees. The Lord cares. God knows. God loves. Now this doesn’t mean the rest of her story will be smooth sailing, just like it won’t for you or me. So it goes on. When Rachel saw that she was not bearing Jacob any children, she became jealous of her sister. So she said to Jacob, “Give me children, or I’ll die!” (Genesis 30:1) That’s a reasonable request, isn’t it? And Rachel is the favorite wife. She’s wife number one. Leah and Rachel go on to start engaging in what one Old Testament scholar calls “baby wars.” — See who can have the most kids. They each have Jacob start having babies with their maids as well as themselves just to win. When there’s a hole in your heart, someone else’s success just makes you feel worse about you, just rubs salt in your wounds. I’ll tell you how absurd this gets. This is in the Bible or I wouldn’t get into it. During wheat harvest, Reuben went out into the fields and found some mandrake plants, which he brought to his mother Leah. Rachel said to Leah, “Please give me some of your son’s mandrakes.” But she said to her, “Wasn’t it enough that you took away my husband? Will you take my son’s mandrakes too?” “Very well,” Rachel said, “he can sleep with you tonight in return for your son’s mandrakes.” (Genesis 30:14-15) In the ancient world, mandrakes were thought of as a kind of aphrodisiac, kind of like oysters or green M&Ms. They came with a little warning — “If mandrake effects last longer than four hours, contact your physician.” That’s why they’re in the story. When Jacob came in from the fields that evening, Leah went out to meet him. “You must sleep with me,” she said. “I have hired you with my son’s mandrakes.” So he slept with her that night. She became pregnant and bore Jacob a fifth son. (Genesis 30:16-17) Really? I mean, this is in the Bible? These guys became the patriarchs? From Rachel and Leah’s baby wars is where we get the 12 tribes of Israel? That’s where those names like Judah and Levi come from? See, this is not the story anyone expected. In our day, the story goes, “Boy meets girl. Boy loses girl. Boy gets girl back.” This story is, “Boy meets girl. Boy loses girl. Boy gets girl back, but it’s her sister. Boy gets first girl but second girl is devastated. Boy gets first girl’s maid. Boy gets second girl’s maid. Everyone gets mad, and they all squabble — squabbly ever after.” This is not a story about human virtue. This is not a story about the character development of Jacob or Esau or Isaac or Rebekah or Laban or Leah or Rachel. This is a story about grace. It’s about a God who looks at a wounded, “not Esau,” frightened, deceitful, runaway boy named Jacob and says, “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go.” This is the house of God. This is Bethel. This is the gate of heaven. This is about a God who looks at a little girl who feels homely and unattractive, whose sister taunted her and whose father humiliated her and whose husband didn’t want her — and the Lord saw that Leah was not loved. So no assignments this week. No homework. I mean, if God prompts you as you’re going through the week to look past the surface with people and say, “Here’s a Leah. Here’s someone who’s hurt. Here’s Jacob. Here’s someone who’s hurt. Here’s someone who’s wounded,” and you want to be the vehicle of God’s love to that person, God might do that. But what I want to say right now is there’s nothing you have to achieve. You don’t have to earn any gold stars. This is just an invitation — This week, bring your most honest, most real, most wounded, most broken self to God. Maybe you live in the Bay Area — the success capital of the world, and yet you feel like a failure. * You didn’t get into that school. * You got rejected by that girl. * You got dumped by that guy. * You got turned down for that job. * You lost that opportunity. * You sabotaged your own self because of your drinking. * You slept in the wrong bed. Maybe you’ve slept in a lot of wrong beds, and you’re losing all your self-respect. * You carry this secret that you can’t admit to anyone — that your kids are a disappointment to you, or they’re part of your wound. * You’re jealous every day. * You’re angry every day. * You’re hurt every day. * You’re afraid every day. * You’re alone every day. Here are the only grounds for confidence — You, right there in your life, are seen by God. You are known by God. God cares. God heals. So in prayer this week, bring your real self to the real God. Open up that secret chamber of your heart — the stuff you most don’t want to talk about or that feels most painful or you’re most tempted to bury or try to hide, that you feel most guilt around. Bring that to God. Talk to him about it. And let him love you and let him heal you. If we confess our wounds, our hurts, our sin, our guilt, our failure, and our shame — the writers of Scripture make this wonderful promise — the love of God covers us, and the forgiveness of God heals us. Just bring it all to him this week and let him love you. Let him heal you. Alright, let me pray for you. Blue Oaks Church Pleasanton, CA