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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Friday, July 24, 2020  

Today’s Scripture Reading  |  Genesis 29:15–28

Then Laban said to Jacob, “Because you are my kinsman, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell me, what shall your wages be?” Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. Leah’s eyes were lovely, and Rachel was graceful and beautiful. Jacob loved Rachel; so he said, “I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.” Laban said, “It is better that I give her to you than that I should give her to any other man; stay with me.” So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her. Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife that I may go in to her, for my time is completed.” So Laban gathered together all the people of the place, and made a feast. But in the evening he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob; and he went in to her. (Laban gave his maid Zilpah to his daughter Leah to be her maid.) When morning came, it was Leah! And Jacob said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? Did I not serve with you for Rachel? Why then have you deceived me?” Laban said, “This is not done in our country—giving the younger before the firstborn. Complete the week of this one, and we will give you the other also in return for serving me another seven years.” Jacob did so, and completed her week; then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel as a wife. (NRSV)

Stories from the Old Testament are certainly fascinating—and often bizarre. Sometimes the patriarchs look more like a “rogues gallery” than examples of saintliness. We can learn as much through what is abhorrent about their behavior as we can when they shine as great examples of faith.

In the story today, Jacob’s father-in-law, Laban, plays the role of brazen deceiver. On what was supposed to be Jacob and Rachel’s wedding night, Laban conspires in the darkness to substitute his firstborn daughter, Leah, for the love of Jacob’s heart, Rachel! When Jacob awakes the next morning to find Leah next to him instead of his beloved, for whom he had labored seven years, he takes his outrage to the deceiver.

“Well, my son, it is not according to custom to marry off the younger before the older” is Laban’s lame excuse. But crafty Laban has a deal he’s sure Jacob can’t refuse: if he just works seven more years, he can have Rachel too! (I told you these stories are sometimes bizarre.) But for the love Jacob had for Rachel he worked seven more years.

But the bedroom became “a bit crowded,” as the late Princess Diana put it in more recent times. As we read the sequel to the account above (Genesis 29:31–35), we hear that “the Lord saw that Leah was unloved [by her husband, Jacob], and so God opened her womb.” The first she named Reuben (Hebrew: “to look upon with mercy”), for she said, “because the Lord has looked upon my affliction; surely now my husband will love me.” The second she named Simeon (Hebrew: “to hear”), “because the Lord has heard that I am hated.” The third she named Levi (Hebrew: “joined to me”), “for now this time my husband will be joined to me.” The fourth she named Judah (Hebrew: to praise), “for this time I will praise the Lord!”

In so many of these Old Testament stories, we get hints of the tenderheartedness of a God who sees our heartbreaks and hears our cries (see Hosea 2:14–20, 11:1–4, 8), but the seed of this vision waited for its full blossoming in the life of Jesus—in his famous story of the Good Samaritan, who stopped to bind up the wounds of the traveler beaten up on the road to Jericho; when Jesus stopped in the Capernaum crowd when he felt the tug of one despised and rejected woman in the dust; when he surprised a heartbroken woman weeping at his tomb on Easter morning, calling her by name, “Mary!”; when he came back to a bitterly weeping failure of a disciple, Peter, saying “Come now, feed my lambs!” As the hymn proclaims so well, “Hallelujah, what a Savior.”

Friend and Savior, lover of the loveless, champion of the despised, and hope of those with little faith, we are glad this day to know that you see us in our heartbreaks and you hear us in our cries, you wash us clean from our sins, and you fill us with your Spirit. We love you and want to give our lives to you. In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.

Written by David Handley, Interim Minister for Pastoral Care

Reflection and prayer © Fourth Presbyterian Church

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