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“And Jacob said unto Laban, Give me my wife, for my days are fulfilled.”

Genesis 29:21 Jacob had deceived his blind father Isaac, and the result of that sin was that he was banished for many years from his covenant inheritance in Canaan. Far from his father’s house while dwelling with his uncle Laban, the Lord subjected Jacob to severe chastisements because of his sin. He had deceived his father; at the hands of his unscrupulous uncle he was subjected to a very similar deception. It was the hand of the Lord leading him through deep trials in the way of his sanctification. 

Seven years passed as Jacob served Laban so that he might have Rachel in marriage. We read that “they seemed unto him but a few days, for the love he had to her.” Finally the years of servitude were finished, and it was Jacob who had to approach Laban and remind him of the agreement that had been made. With more than his usual willingness Laban agreed to meet his debt. With more than his usual generosity he made ready for an elaborate celebration of the marriage. It was not until the morning following the ceremony that Jacob discovered the reason for his uncle’s amiable cooperation. The same seed which Jacob had sown so many miles and years before, he reaped again in kind. Under the veil of his father’s blindness he had presented himself in the place of his brother Esau. Under a veil of cloth and of darkness his uncle presented to him Leah in the place of Rachel. As Jacob had sown so did he reap. 

It is this even more than any other which brings out the avaricious and greedy nature of Laban. Laban gave as a reason for this substitution the custom of that country that required the older daughter to be married before the younger. But no one could take this reasoning very seriously. Had such been the truth surely Laban would have, or at least should have, informed Jacob of it at the time of the original contract. We would conclude rather that Laban had found the service of Jacob to be so profitable that he did not want to see its terms expire. Knowing the affection which Jacob held toward Rachel, he anticipated the possibility of renewing in this way the contract for yet another seven years. This would be all to his profit. So it was that Laban in a very real sense sold his daughters for nothing more than filthy lucre. 

Much has been made of the guilt which Leah also incurred by taking part in this imposture. What is forgotten thereby is that in that day it was quite improper for any man to approach a woman concerning marriage except through her father or legal guardian. It is not at all impossible that through the seven years of Jacob’s service Laban in his cunning never informed his daughters of his agreement with Jacob. Meanwhile there developed in Leah a strong love for Jacob based, at least in part, upon her love for the place which he held within the covenant of God. Thus when Laban told her to prepare for the coming wedding, she did so joyfully in complete ignorance of real terms of agreement and the expectation of Jacob. 

We wonder why Jacob, when he discovered the imposture, did not renounce his marriage with Leah on the basis of fraud. Surely he could not have been held legally responsible for a marriage contracted under such fraudulent circumstances. He could have exposed the trickery of Laban and justly demanded recompense. But Jacob did not. Was it, perhaps, that underneath his strong attachment for Rachel there was also a love for the more spiritual Leah? He recognized the spiritual superiority of Leah and was not ready to put her to open shame by exposing the fraud. In this the hand of the Lord was working. Just as before this God had used the deceit of Jacob to keep Isaac from giving the covenant blessing to Esau, so here God used the deceit of Laban to make Leah the mother of the covenant line. He would not be dependent upon the works and ways of men. God had ordained that Leah should be the mother of the generations of Christ. In spite of the weakness of Jacob, He guided all things that so it should be. 

But Jacob was not ready to renounce his love for Rachel. It was a superficial love based on Rachel’s greater external beauty; but still it loomed very strong within the heart of Jacob. Had Jacob had the strength of his father Isaac he would have recognized the hand of the Lord in that which had happened. Then he would have repented of his desire to have Rachel for his wife and received Leah as a gift from the Lord. But Jacob was yet spiritually immature. He was not willing to renounce that upon which he had set his heart. Immediately the next morning he approached Laban and with angry words he accused him. “What is this thou hast done unto me? did not I serve with thee for Rachel? wherefore then hast thou beguiled me?” Laban was ready for him. He offered to contract with Jacob for another seven years of service so that Jacob might have both of his daughters. So it was that Jacob was subjected once again to the cunning of his unscrupulous uncle. Within another eight days he took to himself also Rachel and sold himself to the sinful life of polygamy. 

Polygamy was only too frequently practiced by the people of Old Testament times. The Old Testament Scriptures pointed out quite clearly that it was wrong but did not give direct commandment forbidding it. Neither did they provide for a direct punishment or discipline for those who practiced it. Nonetheless, those who practiced polygamy were punished, for the very practice itself inevitably brought great sorrow and suffering into the families where it existed. 

In the family of Jacob trouble developed very soon after he had taken both Leah and Rachel to be his wives. This trouble was due principally to two different facts. The first was the continued preference which Jacob gave to Rachel over against Leah: This is a natural result of polygamy and we find several examples of it recorded in Scripture. It is a human impossibility for a sinful man to treat two wives with complete equality. But when such equality does not exist it results in jealousy and antagonism. The second fact was that God showed preference for Leah, Leah had been chosen and ordained by Him to be the mother of the covenant line of Christ. Furthermore, she was the more spiritual of the two women. This too only served to increase the antagonism within Jacob’s family. 

Soon after her marriage to Jacob God looked down in compassion upon Leah and opened her womb so that she bore children; but Rachel was barren. We gain a glimpse into the spirituality of Leah when we observe her reaction to the birth of her first four children. When Reuben was born she said, “Surely the Lord hath looked upon my affliction; now therefore my husband will love me.” When Simeon was born she said, “Because the Lord hath heard that I was hated, he hath therefore given me this son also.” At the birth of Levi she remarked, “Now this time will my husband be joined unto me, because I have born him three sons.” Finally when Judah the father of Christ was born, she exclaimed almost prophetically, “Now will I praise the Lord.” In this we see reflected some of the pain which Leah felt because Jacob withheld from her his love. It was a grief that weighed heavily upon her heart. Nevertheless, she did not become bitter or hateful. She looked, rather, to the Lord to take away her burden. As each one of her children were born she did not become arrogant or proud boasting in her own strength. She gave thanks unto God recognizing that it was His grace that gave her these children. 

It was with Rachel that the trouble which was to beset the family of Jacob first made its appearance. She dominated the love of Jacob, but that did not satisfy her. She was barren and she envied her sister with her children. With her heart filled with bitter jealousy she said to Jacob, “Give me children, or else I die.” In anger Jacob replied, “Am I in God’s stead, who hath withheld from thee the fruit of the womb?” With the entrance of carnal rivalry into the family of Jacob, the love of God which leads His people to shark each other’s burdens departed. Nor did it stop with that. Incited by her jealousy, Rachel observed no moral boundaries but, following the example of Sarah before her, she thought to raise up children unto herself by giving her handmaid Bilhah to Jacob. When Bilhah brought forth a son, Rachel also made an appeal to God as having vindicated her. However, the battle in which she thought herself to be vindicated was not a spiritual battle but a carnal competition for dominance over her sister. This became evident when Bilhah bore a second son, and she responded, “With great wrestling have I wrestled with my sister, and I have prevailed.” Because of the competition between his two wives, the life of Jacob’s family was brought down into the depths of antagonism and strife. 

Neither did Leah remain untainted by the antagonism of Rachel. Leaving her leyel of high spirituality, she was caught up by the spirit of jealousy which was pervading their home. Following the example of her sister, she too imposed her handmaid upon Jacob. No longer was the bringing forth of children a matter of faith with her. When Zilpah gave birth to two sons she named the first one Gad, which is practically the equivalent of our expression “Good Luck”; and the second one she named Asher, meaning merely “happy,” for she said, “Happy am I, for the daughters will call me blessed.” Gone were the beautiful testimonies of faith which accompanied the birth of her first four sons. 

So this vying for ascendancy continued, all the while draining the joy and spiritual strength from the household of Jacob. It reached perhaps its lowest ebb when Rachel and Leah bargained together over some mandrakes which Reuben had found in the field. The mandrakes were a fruit that according to popular superstition were thought to cause fertility. Rachel, still barren, wished to have them for herself. Leah was ready to sell them for the attention of her husband. With such petty bickering and superstitious bargaining taking place, spirituality seemed to have departed almost completely from the covenant household of Jacob. 

We may wonder at times that the Old Testament Scriptures do not speak out more strongly in condemnation of polygamy. But, if we correctly understand such events as this, they speak for themselves. The Spirit of inspiration vividly portrays before our eyes the evil results that fall upon them who ignore the very ordinance of creation that to every man there should be but one wife. 

In fairness to Rachel we should note, however, that eventually she must have seen the futility of her way and turned from it in repentance. Scripture does not give to us the details but only records that “God remembered Rachel, and God hearkened to her, and opened her womb.” Presupposing a spiritual revival within the heart of Rachel, this statement prepares us for the confession which she made at the birth of Joseph, “God hath taken away my reproach.” Purged from all taint of jealousy and animosity, this confession gives honor to whom honor belongs. It reminds us of the glorious truth that, although His people may fall into great depths of sin, God will use also that as a means to show them the futility of their sin and to restore them to even greater heights of faith. 

—B.W.