May 18, 2007

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Genesis: The love story of Jacob and Rachel

John F. Fink(Fifth in a series of columns)

In the Book of Genesis, Isaac, Abraham’s son, plays much more of a passive role than Abraham did. The story begins with Isaac’s servant traveling back to the land of Abraham’s birth to find a suitable wife for Isaac. That wife is Rebekah.

The scene of Isaac’s servant persuading Rebekah and her brother, Laban, to let her marry Isaac, and the journey back to Palestine, is considered a masterpiece of ancient writing. And that leads to a great conflict as Genesis next tells us the story of Jacob.

It involves the hatred of two brothers for one another, trickery on the part of Jacob aided by his mother, Rebekah, and the triumph of the younger brother over the older. Rebekah is the heroine of the story.

Modern Christians are sometimes shocked at the trickery and dishonesty in the chapters about Jacob, but we are looking at this literature from the viewpoint of the 21st century. The story is meant to be an exciting action narrative where the outcome hangs in doubt. It is not a pious biography of a saint. There are also some sexual practices in this story that we definitely would not approve of today.

The trickery begins when Isaac is a blind old man. He wants to pass on his birthright to Esau, his older son, but Rebekah favors her younger son so she fixes Jacob up so that he feels hairy, as Esau is, and Isaac gives his blessing to Jacob, making him his heir and master over Esau.

Esau resolves to kill Jacob, but Isaac sends Jacob off to his uncle, Laban, back in Mesopotamia. There, Jacob meets Rachel, Laban’s daughter, who runs off quickly to tell Laban that Rebekah’s son has arrived. Laban immediately takes Jacob in.

Now we get into a great love story between Jacob and Rachel. Jacob tells Laban that he will work for him for seven years if he can have Rachel in marriage. Laban agrees. Jacob works for seven years. Laban, though, has an older daughter, Leah. During the wedding ceremony, the bride is veiled. That night, the couple consummates their marriage in the dark.

The next day, Jacob discovers that he has been tricked and that he has married Leah. Laban simply explains that it is not the custom in that country to marry off a younger daughter before an older one. However, he then proposes that Jacob marry Rachel, too, in return for another seven years of work for Laban. Jacob agrees, and thus he is married to both Leah and Rachel.

It happens that Leah is quite fertile, but Rachel is not. Leah begins having children while Rachel remains barren. So Rachel gives her maidservant to Jacob, and the maidservant has a son.

Then Leah ceases to bear children, and she, too, gives her maidservant to Jacob, and she, too, has a son. But then Leah becomes fertile again and bears two more sons, plus a daughter, Dinah. Finally, Rachel has a son, Joseph. †

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