Jacob protested: “Hey! I was betrothed to marry Rachel, and you foisted Leah upon me! What gives?”
“You’re not much for reading the fine print, are you?” said Laban. “It’s in paragraph 242: “It is not our custom here to give the younger woman before the firstborn.” (Genesis 29:26) “You knew or should have known this.”
There was a part of me that when they came to that meeting question of what ‘gem’ I had picked up from Genesis 29 & 30 wanted to say that Jacob had married into a ‘gem’ of a family—a real bunch of shysters. And to think he slept with Leah, supposing it was Rachel? C’mon! How can that be?
The research guide explains how that can be. Speaking of bride customs of the time: “First she would bathe herself and rub herself with perfumed oil....she put on breastbands and a white robe, often richly embroidered...decked herself with ornaments and jewels...then covered herself with a light garment, a form of veil, that extended from head to foot.”
She must have looked like a Christmas tree! And then take her into a dark tent—she keeps her mouth shut, and Jacob isn’t in a chatty mood himself, and yeah—I can see how it could happen.
If Jacob married into a family of shysters—well, it serves him right, for he was somewhat of a shyster himself. Wasn’t he? It is not even a separate family, for they are relatives, and not all that distant.
He had been opportunistic with his dumbbell brother Esau, snatching the birthright when Esau was hungry and couldn’t offhand see the relevance of it—he was hungry NOW and the birthright represented some nebulous benefits for LATER: “And Esau continued: “Here I am about to die! What use is a birthright to me?” (Genesis 25:32)
Pop was not all that much different, so it would seem. He favored Esau, and why? “And Isaac loved Esau because it meant game in his mouth.” (Genesis.25:28) As for Jacob’s mom: “Rebekah loved Jacob.” She loved him so much that she told him how to pull a fast one on her husband—she knew that if you put food into his belly you could talk him into anything—to secure the blessing for himself, just like he had secured the birthright.
Laban got seven years of work out of Jacob. It was the bridal price apparently. Bridal price was customary and Jacob didn’t come with the means to pay it, so he agreed to the seven years, and “but in his eyes they were like just a few days because of his love for her.” (Genesis 29:20) My wife likes that verse.
He gets ANOTHER seven years out of him in order to work off his debt for Rachel. At least he delivered that second daughter pronto and didn’t make Jacob hold off for another seven years—I mean, there are limits. “Celebrate the week of this woman [Leah]. After that you will also be given this other woman in exchange for serving me seven more years,” says the wheeler-dealer. [By the way, is it only me who feels for poor Leah?]
So you don’t feel too sorry when Jacob outmaneuvers the conniver through a process so convoluted that I can’t begin to get my head around it to increase his own flock of sheep at Laban’s expense:
“Jacob then took freshly cut staffs of the storax, almond, and plane trees, and he peeled white spots in them by exposing the white wood of the staffs. Then he placed the staffs that he had peeled in front of the flock, in the gutters, in the drinking troughs, where the flocks would come to drink, that they might get into heat in front of them when they came to drink. So the flocks would get into heat in front of the staffs, and the flocks would produce striped, speckled, and color-patched offspring. Then Jacob separated the young rams and turned the flocks to face the striped ones and all the dark-brown ones among the flocks of Laʹban. Then he separated his own flocks and did not mix them with Laʹban’s flocks. And whenever the robust animals would get into heat, Jacob would place the staffs in the gutters before the eyes of the flocks, that they might get into heat by the staffs. But when the animals were weak, he would not place the staffs there. So the weak ones always came to be Laʹban’s, but the robust ones became Jacob’s. And the man grew very prosperous, and he acquired great flocks and male and female servants and camels and donkeys.” (Genesis 30:37-43)
If anyone has the patience to work through that one, I’m all ears. It may be one of those things that you have to be a farmer to appreciate—I’ll bet Farmer Mort takes it in stride—and it reminds me of that circuit overseer who would point out that “a working mule won’t kick, and a kicking mule won’t work.” His purpose was to highlight the value of cooperation. He was a sensation in the rural congregations, but then he got to the big city and nobody knew what a mule was.
They’re all shysters! They all pull fast ones on each other. They all cause HQ to hem and haw throughout Genesis that “well—there is nothing in the Bible to suggest that Jehovah approved of these little shenanigans.” I’m not so sure it is the best approach. If you conceded that they did some maneuvering back in the day, you wouldn’t get so bent out of shape if it turns out they’ve done some maneuverings, end-runs, and power plays in the modern day organization. Don’t carry on that Rutherford outmaneuvered the Russell devotees, or that Knorr or Franz or whoever didn’t cross all the T’s or dot all the ‘I’s. Instead, picture God saying: “What a bunch of yo-yos! How am I going to get anything done through this mess? I’ll just make they keep their paws off their neighbor’s wives like my servant David did not and let it go at that!”
Esau wasn’t even that bad of a guy, really. He was just too much ‘earth’ on the ‘earth/fire/air/water’ pinwheel. There’s plenty of solid and respected brothers only slightly higher than him overall—you know, brothers that are rock-solid dependable and there is no practical ability that they cannot master and they love a good solid meal after a hard day’s work—but you have to prod them to do their daily Bible reading, and they continually carry on about how they don’t like study, and find reading a bore.
How could Esau have been, really? He took a couple of Hittite wives that drove his parents nuts, but he was hardly the first one to do this. Didn’t Moses have a couple of these clunkers, too? Or was it just ‘foreign’ wives without reference to specific nationality?
“When Esau was 40 years old, he took as wife Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite and also Basemath the daughter of Elan the Hittite. They were a source of great grief to Isaac and Rebekah.” (Genesis 26:34)
He mended his bad ways. “Esau then realized that the daughters of Caʹnaan were displeasing to his father Isaac, so Esau went to Ishmael and took as wife Mahalath the daughter of Abraham’s son Ishmael, the sister of Nebaioth, in addition to the other wives he already had.” (Genesis 28:8-9) It’s a though he says: “Huh! The folks like wives from the A-team? Okay, I’ll go out and get me one of those.” I mean, he could have married some dragon-lady just to spite them, but he didn’t.
And he forgave Jacob, despite of lifetime of being outmaneuvered by the little twerp. Here, decades later, the two respective families are about to encounter each other, and Jacob is sweating it that Esau will view it as payback time. He sends forth emissaries with presents to suck up to him, but it is all water under the bridge to Esau—contrast that to some pinheaded people even of our own who will nurse a grudge till the end of their days.
“Esau said: “What is the purpose of all this camp of travelers that I have met?” He replied: “In order to find favor in the eyes of my lord.” Then Esau said: “I have a great many possessions, my brother. Keep what is yours.” However, Jacob said: “No, please. If I have found favor in your eyes, you must take my gift from my hand, because I brought it so that I could see your face. And I have seen your face as though seeing God’s face, in that you received me with pleasure. Take, please, the gift conveying my blessing that was brought to you, for God has favored me and I have everything I need.” And he continued to urge him, so that he took it.” (Genesis 33:8-11)
Was Isaac all that different from Esau? Despite Jacob’s spirituality, Isaac preferred Esau because it meant game in his stomach. He didn’t think to send Jacob away to marry a worshipper of Jehovah of his own accord—Rebekah’s complaining prodded him to do it. And why did he yet go ahead and attempt to bless Esau if he appreciated that by rights it belonged to Jacob? There are chapters in the Bible about Abraham, and chapters in the Bible about Jacob. But Isaac is more or less of a placeholder. Not all that much is written about him. Who knows? Maybe he was traumatized by almost being sacrificed.
So Esau turned out to be okay himself—not hot stuff spiritually, but not hostile either. But he didn’t teach his kids. That’s the trouble with brothers who are too much ‘earth.’ They can neglect passing on spiritual gems to their own kids and what they do pass on is in the form of do’s and don’t, absent the principles that give them heart-appeal, and the kids become Edomites, without a spiritual bone in their bodies.