The Search For One TRUE LOVE (Gen 29:15-35)

"...the Lord saw that Leah was not loved..." (Gen 29:31).

Theme: Those who have an inner vacuum and emptiness give themselves to a hope---a hope for 1 true love.

"The Titanic" was a mega hit in 1997 partly because every girl in the world wishes to have her own Leonardo DiCaprio, who sacrificed himself to the freezing ocean out of his undying love for his 1 true love. Many a girl wishes that her "heart will go on" forever because of a true love that never dies. Because of the undying desire for 1 true love that never diminishes through out life, James Cameron made $1.8 billion with his own personal share of $100 million. We agree with the Beatles that "All you need is love."

The Bible is utterly realistic about how hard it is to not be married (thus "not loved"), and how hard it is to be married (somehow the love is not enough). Outside the church people are cynical about marriage. Inside the church people think that family values are what life is all about. The Bible says both these attitudes are wrong. The Bible does not hold up marriage as what one needs to have a fulfilled life. Rather, it points us to a person, to Jesus, the ultimate source of our deepest fulfillment.

There is a fascinating account of Jacob's search for 1 true love. He gave himself to a singular hope--a hope for 1 true love. We learn 3 things about man's quest for 1 true love:
  1. What’s behind the hope (What is behind that hope for 1 true love)
  2. The disillusionment that generally accompanies that hope for 1 true love
  3. What will actually/ultimately fulfill that hope (the hope for 1 true love)
I. The Hope Behind 1 True Love (There is an overpowering human drive in every person to find 1 true love)

This text begins with Laban asking Jacob what wages he would like (Gen 29:15). Jacob had to flee from home. He had deceived his father Isaac to give him the blessing of the firstborn that belonged to Esau, his older twin. Thus, Esau wanted to kill him. Jacob had no choice but to travel a month's journey to his uncle Laban, his mother's brother.

Laban, a shrewd businessman, realized Jacob's tremendous ability as a good worker and manager. He figured that he could make a lot of money if Jacob cared for his flocks. So he asked how he would pay Jacob (Gen 29:15). Jacob's answer was simple: "Rachel, my 1 true love!" She was Laban's absolutely stunningly gorgeous younger daughter (Gen 29:16), with "a lovely figure and was beautiful" (Gen 29:17). Robert Altar, the great Hebrew literature scholar at Berkeley, says that there are all sorts of signals in the text about how over-the-top, intensely lovesick and overwhelmed Jacob is with Rachel. Upon meeting her, he showed off his strength, kissed her and wept aloud (Gen 29:10-11). He agreed to work 7 years for her (Gen 29:18). "So Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her" (Gen 29:20). After 7 years, Jacob demanded, “Give me my wife. My time is completed, and I want to make love to her" (Gen 29:21). In the Hebrew, this statement is so bald, so graphic, so sexual, so over-the-top, inappropriate and non-customary. The narrator is showing us a man driven by and overwhelmed with emotional and sexual longing for 1 woman. Why?

Jacob's life was empty. He never had his father's love. Now he didn't have his mother's love. Though he had met God (Gen 28:17), he had no sense of God's love. He'd lost everything -- no family, no inheritance, no nothing. Then he saw the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. He said to himself, "If I had her, finally something would be right with my lousy life. She will make my life right; she will fix everything that's wrong about my life." All of the longings of the human heart for significance, for security, for meaning--they were all fixed on Rachel.

Cultural historians say that in ancient times people married for status; they didn't marry for love, which is supposedly a relatively recent phenomenon. Our culture is begging us to load all of the deepest needs of our hearts for significance, security, and transcendence into romance and love, into finding that 1 true love. This will fix my lousy life! In most of the world today, people cannot imagine living without apocalyptic romance and love. This has been magnified to an astounding degree. Where does this lead?

II. The Devastation/Disillusionment that Accompanies the Hope for 1 True Love

Laban knew exactly what it meant when Jacob offered to serve 7 years for Rachel. At that time, to marry someone required a bride-price paid to the father (30-40 shekels). Robert Altar says a month's wages was 1 and a half shekels. Jacob offered 3-4 times the normal bride-price. Why? He was absolutely love struck, love sick. He wanted to show how much he loved her. Laban knew how vulnerable he was.

Commentators say that there are indications in the text that Laban immediately came up with a plan, realizing that he could get even more out of this deal. When Jacob proposed the 7 years (Gen 29:18) (the bride price he did not have), Laban never said, "Yes! Deal!" He said, It’s better that I give her to you than to some other man. Stay here with me (Gen 29:19). Jacob wanted to hear a yes, so he heard a yes. But Laban did not say yes.

7 years pass. Jacob says, "Give me my wife" (Gen 29:21). So Laban prepared a great feast (Gen 29:22). In the middle of the feast, the bride, heavily veiled, was given to him, and he took her into her tent. He was inebriated and in that dark tent, "Jacob made love to her" (Gen 29:23). But "when morning came, there was Leah!" (Gen 29:25a). Rightfully angry, Jacob said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? I served you for Rachel, didn’t I? Why have you deceived me?" (Gen 29:25b). Laban nonchalantly responds, “It is not our custom here to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older one. Finish this daughter’s bridal week; then we will give you the younger one also, in return for another seven years of work" (Gen 29:26-27). Without a fight or protest, Jacob basically says, "Oh, OK" (Gen 29:28). Why?

Jacob was obviously absolutely angry, knowing he was thoroughly unfairly deceived. Why doesn't respond with righteous unrelenting indignation and wither Laban's cool exterior? Many devastating persuasive reasonable 'comebacks' are possible. But he didn't retaliate. He is unlike the usual "man of struggle and conflict" that he is. He also just caved in and agreed to another 7 years for Rachel without a fight. His indignation was absent. Why did Jacob quietly just give in?

1st, Laban said, "It's not our custom here..." (Gen 29:26). Robert Alter translates it, "It's is not done thus in our place..." Laban is an instrument of dramatic irony: his perfectly natural reference to "our place" has the effect of touching a nerve of guilty consciousness in Jacob, how in his place acted to put the younger "before the firstborn" (Gen 29:26, ESV), the word Laban used to refer to Leah. Those words must have been like a dagger in Jacob's heart. They could not fail to make Jacob think of what he did and set his guilty conscience on fire.

2nd, Jacob said, "Why have you deceived me?" (Gen 26:25) Here the word translated "deceived" is the same word Isaac used to describe Jacob to Esau (Gen 27:35). "It has been clearly recognized since late antiquity that the whole story of switched brides is a meting out of poetic justice to Jacob--the deceiver deceived, deprived by darkness of the sense of sight as his father is by blindness, relying, like his father, on the misleading sense of touch." (Robert Altar, Genesis, 1996, 155). The parallels are hard to miss. Jacob's deceit and Laban's deceit both entailed deception and exploitation of weaknesses and the switching of the 1st-born and 2nd-born.

Likely Jacob realized that Laban did to him what he had done to his father. In the dark, Jacob thought he was touching Rachel, as his father in the dark of his blindness had thought he was touching Esau. In an imaginary conversation the next day between Jacob and Leah, Jacob says to Leah, "I called out 'Rachel' in the dark and you answered. Why did you do that to me?" Leah says, "Your father called out Esau in the dark and you answered. Why did you do that to him?" Suddenly the evil Jacob has done comes back to him. Jacob sees what it is like to be manipulated and deceived, and meekly picks up and works another 7 years.

We see Jacob in his devastation, but what about Leah? Who is she? She is described variously as having eyes that are weak, tender, soft, delicate (Gen 29:17). The Hebrew word is ambiguous. Perhaps, she was cross-eyed. Likely, it was something unsightly. The point, however, is that she is particularly unattractive, in sharp contrast to her absolutely stunning sister. Laban knew that no one was ever going to marry her or offer any money for her. How was he going to get rid of her? How would he unload her? He found a way through Jacob who was completely vulnerable and love struck. Now the girl that Laban, her father, did not want was given to a husband who doesn't want her either. She is the girl nobody wants.

Leah has a hollow in her heart every bit as big as the hollow in Jacob's heart. She begins to do to Jacob what Jacob had done to Rachel and what Isaac had done to Esau: She set her heart on Jacob. The evil pathology in the family just ricochets around from generation to generation.

When Leah had her 1st 3 sons (Gen 29:32-34), what was she doing? She was trying to get an identity through traditional family values. In those days, having sons was the best way to do that. But it was not working. She set her heart, all of her hopes and dreams, on her husband, by giving him many sons. She thought, "If my husband loves me, it will fix my lousy life." Instead, she was just going down into hell. Gen 29:30 says, "his (Jacob's) love for Rachel was greater than his love for Leah." It meant that she was condemned every single day. Her hell was to see the man she most longed for in the arms of the one in whose shadow she has lived all of her life. Every day was like another knife in the heart.

What can we learn here?

1st, in the morning, it is always Leah! In all of life there runs a ground note of cosmic disappointment. Understand that life will always disappoint. Jacob says, "If I just get Rachel, everything will be OK." Like Jacob, whatever we set our hopes on--in the morning, it is always Leah! Why? Because the good things in the world that we desperately want (marriage, families, ministry) will never be able to do what we want them to do for us. If one puts weight on the person we are marrying, (the children we love, the ministry we desire), we are going to crush him or her. Hopefully, sooner rather than later, we KNOW that everything disappoints, and that there is a note of cosmic disappointment and disillusionment in everything, in all the things into which we most put our hopes. When we experience this, there are 4 things we can do:

  1. Blame the thing (The fool's way), drop it, get new and better ones.
  2. Blame yourself (The way of self-pity and despair). Beat yourself up. Hate yourself.
  3. Blame the world (The cynical way). This leads to ever increasing hardness.
  4. Realize the reality (God's way). In Mere Christianity, CS Lewis said, "If I find in myself a desire which no experience in the world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world (something supernatural and eternal)."
2nd, liberalism and conservatism are wrong about romance, love and sex. Jacob was liberal, "Give me my wife! I want sex!" Leah was conservative. She is having babies. She is trying to find her identity in being a loving wife. They are both wrong. Their lives are a mess. Earnest Becker (Denial of Death, 1973, 166) says, "No human relationship can bear the burden of godhood... However much we may idealize and idolize him (the love partner), he inevitably reflects earthly decay and imperfection. And as he is our ideal measure of value, this imperfection falls back upon us." We are all seeking redemption, value, significance, meaning, validation through love, through our idols. It doesn't work. Yet we have this undying drive in us for 1 true love. What can we do?

III.  What can Fulfill the Hope for 1 True Love

See what God does in Leah and for Leah. She is the 1st person to get it. Scholars notice that even though she is clearly making a functional idol out of her husband and her family, she is calling on the Lord. She doesn't speak about God in some general way or invoke the name Elohim. She uses the name Yahweh in the birth of the 1st 2 sons (Gen 29:32-33).

Elohim was the generic word for God. The general idea of God in all cultures were gods at the top of the ladder. So we had to get up there through rituals, moral performance, transformations of consciousness. Everyone understood God in that sense. But Yahweh was different. Yahweh was the God who came down the ladder, the one who entered into a personal covenantal relationship and intervened to save. In Altar's translation of Genesis, Gen 28:13 says, "the Lord was poised over him." Likely Leah learned about Yahweh from Jacob. Even though she is still in the grip of her functional idolatry, somehow she is trying, she is calling out, she is reaching out to a God of grace. She has grasped the concept. Finally, with the birth of the 4th son, there is a breakthrough. She does not mention husband or child, but says boldly, “This time I will praise the LORD” (Gen 29:35). At that point, she has finally taken her heart's deepest hopes off of the old way, off of her husband and her children, and she has put them in the Lord.

Jacob and Laban had stolen Leah's life. She had given her heart to a good thing (husband, love, children) and turned it into an ultimate thing. The result was only heart break and more heart break. But when she gave her heart to the Lord, she got her life back. What good thing in your life are you treating as an ultimate thing? What do you need to stop giving your heart to in order to get your life back?

Something happened to Leah. She began to understand what you are supposed to do with your desire for 1 true love. She turned her heart toward the only real beauty, the only real lover who can satisfy those cosmic needs. God did something in her. There was a breakthrough. She sensed that God was doing something in her. The author of Genesis knows what God had done. It is the child Judah, through whom will come the King (Gen 49:10). God has come to the girl nobody wanted, the unloved, the unwanted, and made her the mother of Jesus! Leah is the mother of Jesus, not beautiful Rachel, but the homely one, the unwanted one, the unloved one. Why did God do that? Because of his person and his work.

1st, his person. "When the LORD saw that Leah was not loved, he enabled her to conceive" (Gen 29:31). God is saying, "I am the real bridegroom, the husband of the husbandless, the father of the fatherless." God is attracted to the people the world is not attracted to. He loves the unwanted, the unattractive, the weak, the ones the world doesn't want to be like. God says, "If nobody is going to be the spouse of Leah, I will be her spouse."

2nd, the gospel. Jesus came as the son of Leah. Jesus became the man nobody wanted. He was born in a manger. He had no beauty that we should desire him (Isa 53:2). He came to his own and they received him not (Jn 1:11). At the end, nobody wanted him. Everybody abandoned him. Even his Father didn't want him (Mt 27:46; Mk 15:34).

Why did Jesus become the man nobody wanted? For you and me! Here is the gospel: God did not save us in spite of the weaknesses that he experienced as a human being but through it. No one gets salvation through their strength; it is only for those who admit they are weak. If you cannot admit that you are a hopeless moral failure and a sinner and that you are absolutely lost and have no hope apart from the grace of God, then you are not weak enough for Leah and her son and the great salvation that God has brought into the world. God chose Leah because he is saying, "This is how salvation works." This is the upside down way. The way up is down. The way to become rich is to give your money away. The way to power is to serve. God came as the son of Leah because he choose the foolish things to shame the wise; he chooses the weak things to shame the strong (1 Cor 1:27-29).

Practical Applications:
  1. "Enjoy" the "Labans" in your life. Don't be bitter and beat them up. God can use them in your life to make you better if you don't become bitter.
  2. Enjoy rejection. God knows/cares for the rejected/betrayed. Jesus was rejected. God didn't just love Leah, but he actually became Leah, the son of Leah.
  3. Know/understand that in the morning, it will always be Leah. It will make you less desperate in your marriage-seeking, less angry with your spouse.
  4. You can't mess up your life. You can't screw up God's plan for you. Everyone has blown up/screwed up their life. Everybody sinned. Jesus is the "fruit" of everyone's sin. Jesus is not plan B.
The devastation and unhappiness and misery that happens in your life because of your sins are always your fault. You are responsible. You should repent. Yet God is going to work through you. These 2 things are together. This is an antimony, a paradox. It's never too late for God to work in your life. Start over now. Like Leah, say, "This time I will praise the Lord."

This is based on a sermon by Tim Keller, "The Girl Nobody Wanted," published in Heralds of the King, 53-72.

Genesis Study Guide by Tim Keller: What were we put in the world to do? 191-201.

The Girl Nobody Wanted (Gen 29:15-35)
  1. What might Laban know about Jacob (Gen 29:10-14)? Why was the motivation of Laban and Jacob (Gen 29:15-20)?  In what ways is Laban's scheme ingenious, though cruel (Gen 29:21-26)? What did Laban gain?
  2. Though Jacob was shocked and furious (Gen 29:25), why did he agree so compliantly to Laban's explanation and further offer (Gen 29:26-30)? How was Laban's deceit with Jacob parallel to Jacob's deceit with his family?
  3. How does the affirmation of Gen 28:13-15 and the discipline of Gen 29:15-30 work together for Jacob's good (Heb 12:5-6; Prov 3:12; Amos 3:2; Gen 50:20)?
  4. Identify the idols of Jacob (Gen 29:18,20,30), Leah (Gen 29:32-34), Rachel (Gen 30:1,8). How does God deal with the lovelessness of Leah (Gen 29:31) and the barrenness of Rachel (Gen 30:22-24)? What does this tell us about God's salvation (Isa 53:2; Jn 1:11; Mt 27:46; Mk 15:34; 1 Cor 1: 27-29)?