A Biblical Marriage

It starts out like a fairy tale, Jacob and Rachel meet at a well. Jacob has come to find a wife and here she is! Gorgeous! And well endowed! Literally! She’s come to water just one of her father Laban’s many herds of sheep. Jacob resorts to feats of strength to woo her, rolling away a stone, opening the mouth of the well later known as Jacob’s well, offering to water her sheep. She approaches. He leans in. They kiss. 

It’s enough to make you swoon… until you realize they’re cousins. Rachel’s father Laban is Jacob’s mother’s brother which makes Jacob Rachel’s daddy’s sister’s son (insert West Virginia here).

But the cousin thing isn’t so much a problem in “Bible Times”. The problem comes when Laban, Rachel’s father, plays hard to get. Jacob has grown accustomed to getting what he wants even when it meant pulling the wool over his own father’s eyes, but now he has met his match. When Rachel runs to tell her father about her kissin’ cousin Laban seizes the opportunity and convinces Jacob to sign up for seven years hard labor to win Rachel’s hand. Jacob agrees and after seven years their big day arrives. 

They of course throw a big party. In “Bible Times” weddings go on for days, and late into the night. Finally, after they’d cut the cake and the wine steward called last call, a likely schnockered Jacob stumbles with his new bride into the wedding tent to make this thing official (which they did) before he passed out.  

Again, it’s like a fairy tale, or at least a Vince Vaughn movie, until morning when Jacob wakes up and… it’s Leah! He wakes up to find Rachel’s older sister, Laban’s eldest daughter, in bed next to him. He carnally consummate the wrong cousin! Jacob, whose name means deceiver, had been deceived by his own uncle! 

Jacob goes and finds Laban sitting on his front porch with a smirk on his face and a shotgun in his lap. “I don’t know how y’all have been doin’ things over in Caananite country, but where we come from the second born daughter doesn’t get married off before the first.” 

Jacob’s own deceiving his older brother Esau out of his birthright had been turned back on him. Laban says “You can have Rachel too, but it’ll cost you another seven years.” 

You want the definition of biblical marriage? Here it is. 

I’m reminded of my own wedding day. Well, not my wedding day, but the 10th anniversary of our wedding which we celebrated a few months ago. A few years ago Allie and I decided our first wedding was so fun that every ten years we’d have another one and throw another party. We had a whole vow renewal service and everything right there in that sanctuary with a preacher and everything. My only mistake was asking my friend Jason to preach. 

Imagine my surprise when it came time for the scripture reading and this is the text he chose, this story about the kind of marriage you’d expect to learn about on an episode of Jerry Springer. 

His homily which he later published under the title “Expecting Rachel, Finding Leah,” was, well, long, but it was worth every minute. About halfway through he hits the heart of the matter. Why is this story even in the Bible? What moral lesson could we possibly take from this sordid tale? 

Jason writes “This trashy story is in the Bible because you can’t understand God’s cosmic plan for the overcoming of Sin and the healing of the world apart from the particular lives through which that plan unfolds… This odd cringe-worthy story in Genesis 29 about intense romantic love and even more intense duplicity and deception is bound up with God’s most important work and ways.” 

In the end it is not through Rachel the beautiful that the world receives its savior but through Leah, her undesired, weak-eyed sister. It’s Leah’s branch of this inbred family tree that will eventually bear Jesus, it’s finest fruit, into the world. 

There is gospel in this for anyone who wakes up one day to a person who turns out to be different than the one they thought they had married, or to anyone who wakes up one day to the life they did not, would not have chosen for themselves. One reason my preaching professor stressed the importance of delivering the gospel in every Sunday sermon is because every Sunday there is always someone in the congregation who woke up that day like this, to the life they didn’t want, in ways they didn’t expect. And every Sunday they are joined by dozens of others living in the wake of just such a morning. 

It could be your marriage, or maybe you woke up divorced, or with a new diagnosis, or without a job, or simply without the life you thought you had, the one you had been striving for. Or maybe you woke up and turned on the news to be reminded that you live in a kind of world you would never choose. Maybe You thought yours was a Jacob and Rachel kind of love, or life, but when you woke up it’s Leah you find. 

If we’re honest, single, married, or divorced, this is us. This is the world not as it ought to be, and certainly not as we would want it to be. No. This is life as it actually is. 

Every once in a while before we had kids, if we were at a cocktail party or something, just for a cheap laugh, I would introduce myself to one of my wife’s coworkers or an acquaintance as “Allie’s first husband, Drew.” In truth it was likely within months if not weeks of our actual wedding day that she woke up to realize the man next to her was her second husband, the one she didn’t realize she had married. In fact, by now I might be her tenth husband. I’m not the man she fell in love with. She knows more about me now. She knows the most. I’m the man she is married to, the man she has stayed married to even after she woke up to the truth about who I am, and who I am not. 

But here’s the thing, when we talk about those 10 years, almost eleven now, we can’t help but admit that some of those mornings, those days when we woke up to the Leahs of life, those have been the places where the grace of God has been most needed and most abundant. 

While I’ve been away the past week Jessica has helped keep me up to date with the prayer and pastoral concerns of the church. You and the whole staff and leaders are great at that. That means that even though I’ve been away I know that some of you have woken up to your own Leahs this week. You’ve found yourself in the struggle of living a life under circumstances you didn’t expect, and would not have chosen. 

Hear the good news. Christ is born out of the Leahs of life. He came for the sake of the Leahs of life. He chose and chooses to be present in the Leahs of life, and to make of even the unwanted, unexpected branches of this tree of life, the finest fruit.

In the end the good news about Jesus Christ is a double blessing. It is the promise that on the mornings when we wake up to one Leah or another, in marriage or beyond, that Christ is there, with us. And what’s more, Christ’s cross and resurrection extend to us a promise that in fact the Leah’s of life may be precisely the place from whence our redemption, and the finest fruit may come. 

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