First Baptist Church is a place where individuals respond to the word of scripture and seek their own interpretation. Where Separation of Church and State and religious liberty are taken very seriously. Where we hold our Baptist beliefs with deep conviction but we hold them in modesty.
I have a confession. I love bad reality TV. Just look at our DVR
and you’ll see a variety of different “unscripted” TV shows I’ve
recorded to watch when josh isn’t home. (he wont let me watch them when he’s
around. He works at the Texas legislature so he says he deals with enough drama
at work and he doesn’t want to watch someone else’s drama in his free time).
Some of my favorites include “Kate plus 8, sister wives, counting on, I am
jazz, and dance moms). When you’ve had a rough day, there’s something about
watching the drama in other people’s lives to make you say “well at least my
life isn’t like THAT!” in every episode
of dance moms, adult women are seen yelling and insulting one another as they
try to prove that their daughter danced better than the other. when I am exhausted after a day with Ella and
I watch the dramatic Kate Gosslin parent 8 teenagers alone… wait, isn’t that
exactly what youth ministry is? Reality TV is my guilty escape for a few
I’ll admit, this scripture passage
is a troubling one. It reads like a
script from a modern-day reality TV show. It’s like “sister wives” meets bravo’s “the
real housewives of New York. ” I can see it now: “the real housewives of Jacob.”
It would have everything a TV producer
looks for for good ratings- drama, deception, jealousy, rivalry, and women
fighting over men. But let’s not forget
the more glaring parts where men are exchanging women as property without their
consent. (oh, wait, I think that show is already on- isn’t that’s 19 kids and
counting?) And what a passage to preach
on the day we dedicate my daughter to God. What lesson can I teach my daughter
or my teenage girls sitting in the balcony,
that assures them that they are valued and loved when this old testament lesson introduces us
to two sisters by describing their looks and being traded as property?
As we try to make sense of this
story, let’s take a moment to review.
On Last week’s episode of the real housewives
of Haran…. Jacob’s brother Esau is fuming when Jacob tricks him and his father
to steal his inheritance. Esau beings his plot to kill Jacob. He gets in one
little fight and his mom got scared. She
said you’re moving with your auntie and uncle in Bel Air…Jacob spends some time
in the wilderness. He uses a rock as a
pillow and has a dream about a ladder.
As Jacob makes his way into Haran,
he comes across a group of shepherds at a well waiting to water their flock of
sheep. Enter Rachel (his cousin) and her flock. Back then, this is THE place to
meet available women. It’s sort of like the
eharmony for Hebrews. Jacob meets eyes
with Rachel and instantly falls in love.
Intoxicated by his love and, in an act of pure machismo, I imagine Jacob
rolling up his sleeves to show off his biceps.
He then walks all big and puffed up, sort of like a body builder walks,
and single handedly lifts the stone off the well that usually takes many men to
move. Rachel is impressed! He kisses her and is taken
to meet the parents, his uncle Laban. For the Hebrew reader, this is a classic
love story. But it wouldn’t have been a story if they had lived happily ever
Remember, Jacob is a refugee
fleeing his home. He has no money. No
job. Nowhere to go. And people want him
dead. Penniless and love-struck, he offers to work for 7 years in exchange for
Rachel’s hand in marriage. 7 years fly
by quickly and Jacob is ready to marry his bride. On the wedding day, instead of marrying his
love, Rachel, he is tricked into marrying the oldest sister, Leah. I have many
questions about how something like this could happen. How did he not notice it wasn’t Rachel? Did he
have too much to drink at the wedding? Does he have really really bad vision? All
this seems like great poetic justice though that the great trickster Jacob gets
tricked. And it’s hard to feel sorry for Jacob in this case. But the real victim here isn’t Jacob. It’s
Leah is the first born daughter of
Laban. When we first meet her, she is described
as having “lovely eyes.” Other
translations describe them as being weak, tender, or delicate. The meaning of
the Hebrew word is uncertain. In too many Sunday school lessons and sermons,
she is reduced to her looks and it is presumed she isn’t attractive, but that
isn’t clear. What is clear is that she isn’t Rachel – the one Jacob loves. When the newlyweds wake the next morning, we
can only imagine Jacob's reaction. “insert a loud Hebrew expletive.” utter shock, disappointment, anger, deception,
shame, humiliation. But for Leah, it was
heartbreak. Leah was forever married to a man who didn’t choose her, didn’t
want her, and didn’t love her. And the cruelest part of all of this is that the
deception was orchestrated by her father.
When Jacob confronts Laban about the bait and switch, I wonder if Leah
could hear him shouting something like “how could you do this to me? You
tricked me!?” Leah will forever be to him a reminder that he has been
made a fool. To console him, Laban
makes another deal- finish the bridal week with Leah and then he can marry
Rachel but he will be forced to work 7 more years of work for Laban. Caring about nothing other than his love for
Rachel, Jacob agrees. now Imagine Leah's second week of marriage. Most couples are coming home from their
honeymoon, unwrapping gifts, setting up house, and writing thank you
notes. But Leah has to attend the
wedding of her sister… to her own husband.
She’s been pushed aside. How hard
it must have been to have to watch them stare into each others eyes, hold
hands, you know, all those mushy love things. Over and over again, the pain of being the
unloved one is real in Leah's life.
God sees that Leah is unloved-
unloved by her husband, her father, maybe even her sister? She may have been
unloved, but she wasn’t unseen by god. god looked into her broken heart and the
scriptures say “when the lord saw that Leah was unloved, he opened her womb,
but Rachel was barren.” Maybe this is how I can win my husband’s favor, she
thought. She desperately tries to win
her husband’s favor by having children.
As someone who recently had a
child, I am confident that having a baby does not fix any relationship issues
you may have had. In fact, it only
amplifies them. Within the last two weeks, Ella has been teething. She has four teeth coming in at the same
time. I remember the pain of having my
teeth moved and shifted when I had braces as a teenager, so for a baby with
only 8 months of experiences under her belt, teething has to be one the most traumatic
and painful things she’s experienced. Likewise,
this has been a very trying time for her parents. Ella has been waking up every 3-4 hours
screaming bloody murder, and as josh will tell you, I am not a nice person when
I am suddenly woken from sleep. I’m not
proud of the things I've said at 2am. Sleep exhaustion is no joke, y'all.
So Leah has her first three
children- sons Reuben, Simeon, and Levi. She thinks, Maybe this time he will love me, respect
me, appreciate me? After all, I did bear him three sons! But for Leah, it was futile.
Jacob will never love her the way he loves Rachel. At this point, her fourth child is born, Judah. Judah means “praise”. It is then that she gives up on the hope that
Jacob could love her and instead praises her God for his devotion to her.
Can’t you feel Leah’s suffering and
desperation? My heart aches for her as the people around her use her as pawns
in their games. But aren’t we all Leah? We are people who have been hurt by
dysfunctional family, or toxic relationships. We may not be sheep herders
anymore, but our modern culture still causes hurt by gender discrimination,
unequal power in relationships, and rejection through messages about physical
appearance. We’ve been wronged by our
neighbor, mistreated by our relatives, or are undervalued by our employer. For all
of the times you’ve been ignored, felt unloved, were mistreated, misunderstood
or abused, there is hope.
God is working despite our brokenness. Leah’s story teaches us that God is the god
of the underdog. She’s the god of all of us who have suffered mistreatment, injustice
or persecution. God sees Leah's
suffering and keeps working to make her the mother of an underdog nation that
against all odds becomes a light unto the world by which god shows a way of
salvation. Over and over again, God uses dysfunction and brokenness to bring
about his promises. This is a god who can turn a persecutor of Christians into
an apostle of good news. God can turn a king who concealed his adultery with
murder and still call him “a man after god’s own heart.” God can you a doubting apostle to build the
church. God doesn’t insist on perfection. In fact, quite the opposite, it seems
god loves a scoundrel.
And it’s easy for us to judge Jacob
and Laban. The treatment of women as property in this text is a glaring issue.
We can look at this family’s dysfunction and be thankful that women’s rights
have evolved somewhat since then. But if we can’t see past the sins of another
time, then we miss the point of the story.
Don’t misunderstand me. We still
have a long way to go for there to be no male nor female, nor Jew or Greek, nor
slave or free. But this story resonates
deeper. To look into this family’s
dysfunction is to look into all of our human brokenness. Our sinful nature
creates broken relationships, but God doesn’t let our sin thwart God’s purposes.
Luckily for us, God stays on our
side — transcendentally working to overturn unhealthy relationships with
unequal power dynamics. God is on your side if you were mistreated by a parent,
or are in a loveless marriage, or an abusive relationship, or feel your only
worth comes from your looks or your children. And god isn’t giving up on you.
Remember Leah’s fourth child, Judah?
The one where she has turned to god, and has been delivered from her illusion
that having children would make her husband love her? It’s Judah from which
King David comes. Of the twelve sons that would become the 12 tribes of Israel,
it is only Judah (the southern kingdom) that will survive and return from
exile. It’s Judah that preserves our scripture. And it’s from Judah from which
Jesus will be born. It is from the Unloved One that god made it so that we
might say that “neither death, nor life, nor angles, nor rulers, nor things
present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth , nor anything
else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ
Jesus our lord.” Amen.
I want my students to hear this--To
my — there is nothing new under the sun. Regardless of your gender
— if you look to a significant other for your fulfillment, they are human
and will only disappoint you. They can supplement your life and make it better,
but self worth comes from within and from your relationship with god.
*artwork: Vayetze, Painting by Yoram Ranaan based on Genesis 29:21-23, yoramranaan.com