Learning from the Past

I suppose every one of us have strange stories to tell about our family. For example, in my family my Grandfather’s sister married my Grandmother’s brother. And my Grandmother’s other brother married my Grandfather’s other sisters daughter! Got that? We all have some strange stories in our family history, some have a black sheep in the family, some have some odd history, but probably none are as bizarre as the story we are about to study.

Before we get there we need to remember something. Whenever we read the Bible, and especially the Old Testament, we must always remember that behavior that is recorded is not the same thing as behavior which is approved. Just because the Bible records that people lied, stole, and had numerous wives doesn’t mean that God approves of such things. The Bible is an accurate record of what happened in the lives of real people. As a result, the mistakes and foolish choices of people are recorded with honesty. It is especially important to keep this in mind as we look at our text this morning.

In the passage before us we look at the marriage and family of Jacob. Jacob when to Haran to find his uncle. When he arrives in the area of Haran, he runs across a group of Shepherds who were waiting to water their flocks. He asked where they were from and they said, “From Haran.” Jacob says, “Do you know Laban? They said “Why, Yes we do. In fact, here comes his daughter Rachel now.” Rachel, a Shepherdess, was coming out to water her flocks. Jacob was smitten by the girl’s beauty and it was love at first sight.

We read that the Shepherds didn’t water the flocks until everyone was there. One of the reasons for this was because there was a big stone that covered the well. Presumably they waited until they had help to move it and help to move it back. When Rachel arrives in a typical male macho move, Jacob moves the rock on his own to impress his cousin. He helps her water the flock and then they head home.


Laban is delighted to have his nephew come and visit. They caught up on the family news and then Laban invited Jacob to stay with them for awhile. Jacob (after he recovers from his hernia from moving the rock) helps out with the flocks and the chores. Uncle Laban notices that the boy is a great help. Another man around the house is really making a difference. So Laban approaches Jacob with a proposition: Stay on and you can name your price.

This was the opening Jacob was looking for. He was willing to work as his dowry to gain the hand of Rachel. Laban had two daughters; Leah, the oldest who we are told had “weak eyes”( we don’t really know what that means) and Rachel who was beautiful. Anyway, Laban finds the proposal agreeable . . . he basically is getting Jacob without having to pay him. They shake on it. Jacob will work the next seven years and in return Laban will allow him to marry his daughter Rachel.

Our text tells us that those years seemed like nothing because of his love for Rachel. It’s a great love story. Day after day Jacob works and works hard but lays down at night with a smile on his face because he is one day closer to the day when he will have his beloved Rachel as his wife. It’s a great picture for us that the chores of life are much easier to endure if we can see the big picture.

There is a story told of a group of men at a construction site. One man was carefully laying bricks. When asked what he was doing the response was, “I building a wall . . . just like I do everyday”. Another man was working on some of the walls inside the structure. When asked what he was doing he said he was “just doing his job”. When asked what his job was he responded, “to follow the blueprints.” The third guy was involved in the exhausting work of mixing the mortar for the bricklayers. But as he worked, he whistled. When asked what he was doing he responded, “I’m building a great cathedral!” Seeing the big picture makes all the difference.

Do you see that you are building the Kingdom of God? Do you see that you are living now to lay up for yourselves treasures in Heaven? Do you see that you are living now to live again?


After seven years (I’m sure to the day) Jacob says to Laban . . . “OK, it’s time to pay up. I want to marry Rachel now.” So Laban agrees. He schedules a big party to celebrate the marriage of his youngest daughter. There is the procession from the brides house and the grooms house. Various symbolical acts were often done. The bride would be dressed with a thick veil over her face to protect her modesty. She would be led into the dark “bedchamber” of the groom and the marriage would be consummated.

In the morning, Jacob wakes up and rolls over to give his beloved Rachel a hug and is horrified to find out that it wasn’t Rachel he had married . . . it was her sister Leah! Jacob was mad. He who had deceived his brother and father had been deceived by his uncle/father-in-law. Jacob storms out of his “honeymoon suite” and barges into his uncle’s home and confronts him about the deception.

Laban’s response seems less than satisfactory. “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.” It may be true that this was the custom in that day. However, it wasn’t a brand new custom. Laban knew it was the custom when he first made the arrangement with Jacob. He could have told him up front. He could have told him as the seven years were coming to a close. Instead, he chose the way of deception.

The thing that concerns me about the passage is what this deception does. Can you imagine what it was like to be Rachel and Leah? What we can gather is that Leah was a woman with a broken heart. We don’t know what would possess Leah to go along with the scheme. Maybe she had a secret love for Jacob too. We don’t know. What we do know is that Jacob’s rejection had to hurt. No one likes rejection . . . no matter what culture you are living in. How would you feel if after your week-long honeymoon your husband married someone else . . . your sister?

And what about Rachel? She had looked forward to her marriage to Jacob. Certainly they had been building a relationship during those seven years. How would you feel if on your wedding day someone else took your place? (I know some of you look back and wish that had happened . . . but that’s not the question.) This act of deception pits sister against sister. Why would any father do such a thing? The only conclusion is that Laban was motivated by his desire to keep Jacob working for him for nothing. He was profiting nicely because of Jacob and he was willing to do what he had to do to keep him “under contract”.


Once the marriage issues are resolved it is time to begin raising a family. I don’t know what the arrangements were but Jacob did not ignore Leah. Our text tells us that “when the Lord saw that Leah was not loved, he opened her womb.”(29:31) God comes to Leah’s defense. The Lord is the defender of the broken-hearted. Leah has four sons (Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah). Certainly as a result of this a relationship did seem to develop between Jacob and Leah. He may not have loved her the most, but he did seem to love her.

While Leah is having children, Rachel is feeling jealous. Her jealousy is spilling over in anger towards Jacob. Jacob responds appropriately, “Am I in the place of God, who has kept you from having children?” Now Rachel takes a bad situation and makes it worse . . . she asks Jacob to have a relationship (marry) her servant girl and then the children would be considered hers since the servant belonged to her. Does this sound familiar to you? This is the same thing that Sarah did. She resorted to worldly methods to get what she wanted. This always leads to trouble.

Rachel wanted to “win” more than she wanted to be faithful. Have you ever had that mindset? Have you ever done what Rachel did?

  • manipulated a person or situation to get what you want?
  • compromised your standards to get ahead?
  • bought something even though you couldn’t afford it?
  • resorted to worldly techniques to solve a problem rather than trust the wisdom of God?
  • ignored wise advice because it didn’t agree with what you desired?

If you have (and we all have at one time or another), then you understand what possessed Rachel to do such a thing. The spirit of competition is deeply ingrained in us. We want to have the best kids, the best car, the best church . . . we compete often when we should cooperate. We scheme when we should trust.

Bilhah, Rachel’s servant had two children: Dan and Naphtali. Rachel felt somewhat vindicated but she must have still felt like a failure. They were called her children but everyone knew they were the children of Bilhah and Jacob.

Leah, who should be content with the circumstances is not. She is pulled into the competitive arena. She gives her servant Zilpah to Jacob. Zilpah bore Jacob two children: Gad and Asher. The desire on the part of Leah and Rachel was certainly to win Jacob’s love. But realize how foolish this is . . . in a desire to win his love they keep supplying him with other women! The competitive attitude skews our thinking. In our desire to win we lose sight of the goal.

In the next scene Reuben brings some mandrakes home to mom and Rachel asks to have some. This is because mandrakes were considered to be an aphrodisiac. In order to get some of the desired mandrakes, Rachel agrees to let Jacob spend several nights with Leah! And Leah has another son called Issachar. Then she bears him a sixth son, Zebulun, and then a daughter, Dinah. All this time Rachel is still barren. The scheme doesn’t work. She gets the mandrakes but Leah gets pregnant!

Why is it that we are willing to trust everything BUT the Lord? Why are we so quick to turn to magic and superstition? We turn to the Doctor, the Financial Advisor, the Counselor, our friends, and even popular opinion before we turn to the Lord. We’ll read self-help books but we won’t read the Bible. We are making the same foolish mistake Rachel and Leah were making.

After these 6 sons and one daughter borne by Leah, God “remembers” Rachel. Finally, Rachel gets pregnant and delivers a son: Joseph. Much later after the family has left Laban and moved back to Bethel, Rachel had another son. She died give birth to Benjamin.


I know, it’s a wild story but . . .so what? What difference does it make? Do you remember Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians? Everything in the Old Testament was written as an example to us. It was recorded so that we might learn not only about the history of our redemption . . . but also about living faithfully before the Lord. So, what is it that we are to learn from this account. I suggest several things:

God is Holy but His followers are not. We have read this morning of people who made mistakes . . . some of them whoppers. Yet, these are people God chose and used to bring about our salvation.

Do you see why this is significant?

  • Some of you may have been putting off following Jesus because of the hypocrisy of some of claim his name? You have misunderstood the gospel It’s God who is holy . . .not his followers. Yes, there are many who claim to love Christ who show no resemblance to the Savior at all. Friend, there will always be counterfeits in the crowd. Don’t look at the crowd . . .look to Jesus!
  • You may have written others off because they do not “measure up”. Friend, be careful. Jesus tells us that the measure we use in judging others will be the measure that is applied to you. Can you life up to the standards that you hold others to?
  • Some of you are desperately discouraged because your life does not measure up to what you wish it would be. You need to remember that being holy is something we grow TOWARD in our lifetime. Be confident of God . . . be patient with yourself. The process of growth should be steady . . but it does take time. Don’t get discouraged and give up. When you stumble, get up, confess your sin and begin again.

The wonder of this story is that it points us to Jesus. The whole purpose of our Savior’s coming and His substitutionary death was to pay for our treasonous rebellion. We are all in desperate need of a Savior simply because God is holy and we are not. He requires perfection . . . we don’t come close to meeting his standard. We need someone to rescue us. That someone is Jesus. His death on the cross was to pay the price of our sin.

The wonder of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is this: God knows what we are like. He knows the duplicity in our hearts and the rebellion that often governs our lives. And knowing this . . . knowing what we were really like . . . He still sent Christ for us. We deserve to be cast from God’s presence. We deserve to spend eternity facing the horror of Hell. That’s what we deserve! But Christ came to offer us a way out of the sewer that we have made of our lives. He offered to take our place; to suffer our penalty; to make us new. He comes to us in our foolishness and rebellion and offers us a chance to start again. You see, If God loved Jacob, Rachel, and Leah . . .God can and will love you. The question is: will you receive that love?

We often reap what we sow.

Paul wrote,

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. (Galatians 6:7,8)

The Bible seems to affirm this principle. However, I am hesitant to state it because we must be very careful in applying this to other peoples lives. There will be people who are quick to see every difficulty in another’s life as payment for something they have done wrong in the past. Don’t go there! Job’s friends took this approach and God rebuked them! We don’t know why some things happen the way and in the timing they do. Not every happening is in result of the principle of sowing and reaping.

However, generally people reap a measure of what they sow.

  • those who develop their relationship with God in the good times will find Him ever willing to help in the difficult times.
  • those who treat others without compassion will find little compassion from others.
  • those who resort to intimidation and schemes will often find themselves victims of similar tactics
  • those who spend their lives seeking to humbly serve others, will find that others will be there when they need help.
  • those who are only concerned about themselves will find that they are left by themselves.
  • those who live for the moment will find themselves paying the price for that moment for years to come.

The choices you make in life are like seeds planted in the ground. It may seem like the choices have no consequence now . . . but wait! When those seeds begin to grow you may very well find yourself on the receiving end of what you have been giving out.

Third, God Can Use Bad Circumstances for Good Ends.

  • There were a series of bad circumstances throughout the life of Jacob, but God used them to build character in this man God intended to use.
  • Leah, the woman that was “loved less” was the mother of Levi and her descendants became the priests of Israel. Another of her sons was Judah who was the forerunner of David and then of our Savior Himself. God took a bad situation and used it for His glory.
  • Rachel only had two children, but one of them was Joseph who saved his family during the time of famine. God took these bizarre circumstances and used them to build a nation. These twelve sons became the twelve tribes of Israel.

It could be that you are in the midst of trials. And maybe you feel like a helpless pawn in a situation that is beyond your control. God is not idle. Every child of God has the promise that God is guiding and using us in ways we cannot comprehend. God is in the habit of taking hopeless situations and bringing unimagined glory from them. He used these bad choices and painful times to accomplish His will. Jacob, Leah and Rachel may never have understood what God was doing in and through them . . . and you may never understand either. But, He is doing something!

A Final Question

Let me ask you one more thing, as you listened to this story who did you identify with most?

  • I hope none of you identify with Laban. But it is possible that you are a person who using people and cherishing things, other than the other way around. It’s possible that you have been unfeeling in your dealings with others. Friend, follow the course of Laban’s life. He eventually loses his daughters, his grandchildren, and much of his wealth. You have to think that one day Laban woke up and realized that he had squandered the good things of life away by his actions. I can’t help but think that he died a lonely and broken man. If you are on this course . . . wake up before it is too late!
  • Or maybe you relate to Jacob? You feel like you have been working hard only to have the “rug pulled out from under you?” Maybe you have worked extra hours and then you were passed over for a promotion, or laid off. Or maybe you have tried to be faithful and nothing seems to be working out. Learn from Jacob: don’t despair my friend . . . the Lord is your strength. He has promised to guide you and He will not disappoint any who place their trust in Christ. God will vindicate you.
  • Or maybe you identify with Rachel. On the surface you seem to have it “all together”. The world calls you beautiful and envies all you have . . . some even hate you because of your looks or your blessings. But while the world sees the outside on the inside you feel alone and empty. The Lord knows your heart. He sees the ache within you. He will respond to your cry. You may be tempted to use what you have to manipulate and scheme. What you long for is not something you can produce by your scheming. What you are longing for can only come from the Lord. He is what you really are looking for.
  • Or perhaps you feel like Leah. You know you have a lot to offer but the world seems to ignore you. You yearn for someone to love you and maybe you are tempted to do anything to find that love. Again, don’t compromise your standards. The world may not see your beauty yet . . . but God does. He has made you to be a uniquely gifted person that He will use in a wonderful way. If you feel you have nothing to offer, it is because you are not looking through the eyes of the Lord.

So, I hope you see that these chapters in Genesis are not just amusing stories. They are the Word of God which is designed to point us to Jesus and the gift of salvation and life He offers to everyone who believes. You may forget the details of the story . . . that’s O.K. Just don’t miss what the story can teach us. As we all know, those who do not learn from history are destined to repeat it. And there are some classes in life I’d just as soon not repeat.

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