This is the story of how Jacob worked for his uncle for twenty years and left with a couple wives, kids, and fairly large flocks of sheep and goats.
Laban welcomed Jacob as a kinsman. Maybe he remembered the bride price he received for Rebekah and hoped for another. Maybe he was sincere. He agreed to give Rachel as a wife to Jacob in exchange for seven years of labor. Then, he cheated Jacob and gave him Leah instead. (Did they leave the veil on all night, even as they were…getting married? Was it really that dark? Was Jacob just drunk on wedding wine?) When Jacob objected, Laban agreed to give him Rachel for another seven years of work. (At least he got to marry her at the beginning, this time?) Then Jacob worked another six years to build up flocks of his own. During which time Laban again tried to cheat Jacob. They’d made a deal based on the coloration of the animals, and Laban took all the ones that might breed in Jacob’s favor and held them far away. God made sure Jacob got plenty of animals anyway, and Jacob took his leave.
A few questions:
1. Would Laban have tried to take advantage of Jacob if he had brought a traditional bride price the way his grandfather’s servant had? Which he would have been able to do if he hadn’t been on the run from Esau…
2. Why did Laban give Jacob Leah first? If the assertion that marrying off the oldest first was sincere, shouldn’t he have mentioned that up front? Was this something he’d planned all along, for a full seven years? Was Leah that…undesirable? Or was he just trying to entrap Jacob for longer service?
3. How much more peaceful would life have been for the Israelites had they not come from such a contentious household where sisters jealously competed for their husband’s attention? (And it wasn’t really a competition, anyway, since he’d only ever wanted one of them.) How would that have changed Joseph’s story?
Mostly, though, does any of that actually matter? Because Laban is a pretty despicable man. He cheats his kinsmen and clearly didn’t consider the happiness of his daughters. Jacob isn’t all that much better. He cheated his brother, after all, and prides himself on out-cheating Laban. It’s obvious that his uneven marriage situation is never resolved, and it continues to cause problems for everyone involved, including the children, for…well, forever. I feel truly sorry for Leah. How awful it must have been to go through life feeling unloved and unwanted.
The BIGGER THEME to learn here, I’m pretty sure, is that God works through our mess. God’s plan perseveres through human folly. No matter how messy we make our lives, God can still work through us. No matter how messy some else makes our lives, God can still work through it. I cannot believe that God wanted all the betrayals and contention and pain to take place. I cannot believe he planned it in the sense that he brought it about, but I do believe he planned for it, knowing it would take place, and using it to lay out the cobblestone path that lead to the deliverance of us all.