Bible stories : 08 Jacob, part 2.
Part 2 : the Further adventures of jacob.
Jacob has run. And run and run and run. We are using “run” both literally and figuratively, for he probably did run for a small portion, but most of it he probably walked, so that part of “run” would be in a figurative sense.
He runs for several days, walking quickly to Uncle Laban’s. Along the way he takes a few breaks to sleep, and at some point dreams about a giant staircase reaching to the sky with people going up and down, and in this dream God is repeating the promise he made to Grandpa Abraham:
“Wherever you go,” God says in this dream, “I will be with you, and you will live in Canaan and be the founder of a great nation.”
Finally he reaches the outskirts of Uncle Laban’s property, and stops to get some water at the well. “You guys know Laban?” he asks.
“Yeah,” one says. “Matter of fact, there’s his daughter. The pretty one, Rachel.”
Jacob, crafty and careful thinker that he is, helps her with the watering, though she evidently is well-qualified to do it on her own. She graciously accepts and thanks him, and then prepares to go.
“Wait,” he says. And tells her who he is, and then bursts out crying and kisses her. He’s a guy with a big heart. And a big ability to turn on waterworks when they might be helpful.
As an aside, let’s agree to simply be kind to people when they’re crying, and try to avoid passing judgment on whether or not they need to be crying. Jacob was crying, and it may have been a good strategy, but he also was a deep-feeling guy and was overwhelmed at everything that had happened, so let’s give him the benefit and assume that he cried because his heart needed to.
Just as Aunty Rebecca had done many years before at the well with Abraham’s messenger, Rachel raced home and told her dad, Laban. Laban was stoked, super stoked, and ran back to the well to meet his nephew. Family reunion...again!
Jacob may have been a homebody, but he’s not a lazy fellow. He knows how to work hard, and does so for Laban for a month...for free. Won’t take a dime. He works super hard, but the glances he exchanges with Rachel as their paths cross throughout the day are electric. They got a connection. He is definitely falling in love. She is stunning in her physical attractiveness, which was the first thing that blows him away, but he also learns of the many other things about her personality and character that make him increasingly smitten.
Rachel is not an only child. She has an older sister, Leah, who is also beautiful of character and other things...but not so much physically. She is cruelly described by some as being “...as plain as Rachel is beautiful.” Horrible. But here’s the key fact to know: she’s Rachel’s older sister.
The month comes to an end. Laban’s a fair employer for the most part and says, “Come on, I gotta pay you something, what’s fair?”
And Jacob says, “I only want one thing: your daughter.”
Laban says: “Elaborate.”
Jacob says: “First, I’m definitely referring to your daughter Rachel. That daughter. Second, I’ll work for you for seven years if you’ll let me marry her at the end.”
Laban agrees. Over the next seven years, Jacob’s love for Rachel grows stronger and stronger. How much do they see each other? Do those electric passing glances at each other grow more electrified? Whatever the case is, the time flies. Jacob is working toward a future with the woman he loves and a year is a day. Finally, the seven years are up.
It’s a blur. The tents are up, the people are packing it in, the food is full and the wine is flowing; the air festive and no one is more excited than Jacob, especially as he sees his bride walking toward him; his bride in a beautiful wedding outfit that is accented by the opaque veil she wears over her face. Somehow, somehow they get through all the ceremonies and festivities and finally they’re alone and it’s nighttime and it’s the greatest night of his life - although it’s a moon-less one - and finally he wakes up (late) the next morning, rolls over, and discovers that his lovely bride, now sans veil is...Laban’s daughter. Laban’s daughter…
Jacob storms out of bed and rages to his uncle: “What have you done? Why did you trick me? This isn’t funny! I have given you seven years of my life in order to marry your daughter, and this is how you pay me?!”
Laban calmly replies: “You married my daughter.”
Jacob wags his finger at him. “You know what I mean. Seven years I gave you. For Rachel. Fix it!”
Laban shakes his head. “No can do. I forgot to tell you, but it’s a super important custom here that the older daughter has to marry first. No big deal now that it’s a done deal. Come finish celebrating you and Leah’s wedding week. Come on!”
Jacob stomps his foot. “No.”
Laban sighs. “Fine. Tell you what: Don’t make me look bad in front of everyone. Come mingle with the wedding guests, then I’ll make you a deal: seven more years and you get Rachel.”
two women, 99 problems.
Upshot is, Laban is holding the cards. Jacob, furious, agrees to it. And the clock resets again for a seven-year countdown. These next seven years go a lot slower. But finally, finally...there’s a second wedding and Rachel is finally his, and he hers. Together at last. The threesome.
Jacob is not in love with Leah, but finds enough affection for her that they somehow procreate four children. Four sons, in fact. Rachel, on the other hand, seems unable to get pregnant, which becomes a major source of dissension between her and Jacob. Finally, they come up with a solution.
“This is what you’re going to do,” Rachel says. “Take my slave girl, Bilhah. No really, Take her. Take her.”
If this is sounding wrong, then yeah. It is. Bilhah is not only a slave, but she is getting offered up to get impregnated by her master’s husband. Why?
“This way,” Rachel continues, “her children will count as my children.”
Apparently this was a thing. Thus it was done, the deed was done, and Bilhah gave birth to two of Jacob’s kids. Sons, two of them.
Leah, super competitive, gave Jacob her slave girl, Zilpah, to impregnate, but then Leah herself got pg again and had two more sons, plus a daughter!
As an aside, we have to be able to get through some of these ancient stories without constantly getting sidetracked about the morality - or lack of - contained in many of these.
Can we agree that slavery is wrong? Yes.
Can we agree that offering up your slave to your husband so he can get her pregnant, therefore giving yourself claim to those progeny, is super wrong? Yes.
Can we also try, try to provide a context of grace and acknowledgment that
A) these things are wrong,
B) we are judging them long after the fact without context, supporting details or additional information, and
C) these were cultural norms within the societies they lived in at the time, making them wrong to us now, yet a sad and normal part of the societies in which they built and lived in at the time. So there’s that.
Back to the story.
Later, later, Rebecca finally had a son. She named him Joseph. And then a short while later, she had another and named him Benjamin.
All in all, Jacob had twelve sons. These twelve became the ancestors of the twelve tribes of Israel. But that’s later on. We’re not going to skip that far ahead. We’re going to skip to the time Joseph was born. As Metallica said in 1984, “...time marches on.”
Joseph, the first of Rachel, Jacob’s second but favourite wife, was born after he had been serving Uncle / Dad-in-law Laban for twenty years. Twenty years. Long enough to get a big tent named after him. Is Jacob happy with this arrangement? Are many guys happy about working for their father-in-law’s business for twenty years? Especially when you’ve spent the last six of those years getting paid in sheep and goats instead of money and trying to avoid getting cheated. Yes, Laban was a crafty fellow too and did his best to keep his son-in-law in his place.
But Jacob was the king of crafty. In spite of Laban’s sometimes nefarious decision-making, Jacob has grown rich and Laban’s own sons are getting jealous. Which means Laban is not super excited. Jacob knows a big-change has gotta come. Change is a-comin.
Jacob bides his time and waits for the right moment, sort of like that one guy at that one point in that one Shawshank movie. Finally, the time is right: Laban and sons are away, so Jacob takes his wives, sheep, and other animals, and heads west. He times it so well that it’s three days before Laban figures things out and takes off in pursuit. Seven days later and he catches up. Fortunately, God had showed up a dream somewhere in there, and strongly suggested that Laban not hurt Jacob in any way. Will Laban listen? Will Laban disobey? Did Jacob accidentally forget any of his children in his hasty flight?
From Metallica’s fiery 1984 album Ride the Lightning. The track is For Whom the Bell Tolls, and features barely-hearable bass guitar, because they were hazing their new bassist. But that’s another story. One that’s not contained in the Old Testament. But slightly relevant because the band, like Laban, was hazing the new guy, possibly analogous to Jacob.