February 14, 2014

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Old Testament: The story of Jacob and Rachel

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

Chapters 27-29 of Genesis tell us the great love story between Jacob and Rachel, but it begins with dishonesty and trickery. When reading it, we must remember that the story is meant to show how God’s promise to Abraham and Isaac continued through Jacob.

It’s not a pious biography of a saint, but rather a saga about Israel’s ancestors. The ancient readers would see Jacob as clever and wise.

There are also some sexual practices in this story that we definitely would not approve of today.

Esau and Jacob were the twin sons of Isaac and Rebekah, but Esau was the older one. When they grew up, Isaac preferred Esau because he was a skilled hunter, but Rebekah liked Jacob better.

The trickery began when Isaac was a blind old man. He wanted to pass on his birthright to Esau, his older son, and told him that he would do so after Esau caught some game and made an appetizing dish for him.

Rebekah overheard the conversation. She got some of Esau’s clothing and fixed Jacob up so that he felt hairy, as Esau was. She prepared a dish she knew Isaac liked, and Jacob took it to his father before Esau returned. Isaac gave his blessing to Jacob, making him his heir and master over Esau.

When Esau learned of the trick, he resolved to kill Jacob. Rebekah saved Jacob by convincing Isaac to send Jacob off to his uncle Laban back in Mesopotamia, where Isaac and Rebekah had met. There, Jacob met Rachel, Laban’s daughter, who ran off quickly to tell Laban that Rebekah’s son arrived. Laban immediately took Jacob in.

Rachel was “well formed and beautiful” (Gen 29:17), and Jacob fell in love with her. He told Laban that he would work for him for seven years if he could have Rachel in marriage. Laban agreed, and Jacob worked for him for seven years.

Laban, though, had an older daughter, Leah. During the wedding ceremony, the bride was veiled. That night, the couple consummated their marriage in the dark. The next day, Jacob discovered that he had been tricked and that he had married Leah.

Laban simply explained that it was not the custom in that country to marry off a younger daughter before an older one. However, he then proposed that Jacob marry Rachel, too, in return for another seven years of work for Laban. Jacob agreed, and thus he was married to both Leah and Rachel.

It happened that Leah was quite fertile, but Rachel was not. Leah began having children while Rachel remained barren. So Rachel gave her maidservant to Jacob, and the maidservant had a son. Then Leah ceased to bear children, and she, too, gave her maidservant to Jacob, and she, too, had a son.

But then Leah became fertile again and bore two more sons, plus a daughter, Dinah. Finally, Rachel had two sons, Joseph and Benjamin. Thus Jacob had 12 sons and a daughter by four women. †

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