Connections 07.30.2017: God Permits

Genesis 29:15-28

The almost-comical family dysfunction continues in the story of Jacob’s dealings with his uncle Laban. As a woman in the twenty-first century, I sometimes try to add layers of modern interpretations to Bible stories. Let’s face it, if the incident in our text happened today, it would go something like this:

When Laban asked Jacob what he wanted in return for good, hard work, Jacob took at look at the man’s two daughters. There was Leah…and then there was Rachel. Stunning Rachel, who set his heart pounding, filling him with desire and excitement! “I want a date with Rachel,” he said. Laban granted it, but every time Jacob was ready to marry her, Laban put him off. Seven years passed, and finally Jacob had done enough in Laban’s eyes to be good enough for Rachel. They had one of those big weddings where couples and their families spend thousands of dollars for the venue, the dress, the flowers, the photographs, the five-course meal, and—of course—the open bar. Jacob got completely sloshed that night, so much so that, as he and his bride settled into their honeymoon suite, he was too inebriated to realize that Laban had switched daughters. Jacob sealed his wedding night with Leah instead of Rachel!

In our modern world, it seems ridiculous that Jacob wouldn’t have recognized that his own long-awaited bride was actually someone else. At least not without his blood alcohol level being way beyond the legal driving limit. But this story doesn’t take place in our modern world, and it’s actually not helpful for us to add layers to the Bible like I did. Instead, we must learn to respect the existence of ancient cultural norms—even when they hurt our sensibilities to issues like sexism.

In Jacob’s time, a woman was an acceptable reward for hard work. A father could demand seven years of labor in return for his daughter’s hand in marriage. He could secretly present his older, less attractive daughter at the wedding ceremony. A man could sleep with his bride on their wedding night and not realize she was actually someone else. Even so, it’s important to recognize that the story in Genesis views this series of events as deceptive. Laban is pictured as manipulative. The situation is depicted as the wrong way to reach a goal. So why does God permit it?

As with other sessions in this unit, we are once again faced with the fact that, while we can be confident that “God is working God’s purposes out,” we should also remember that “people are wild cards” (Mike Ruffin, 7/9/17). The ultimate question for unit 3 is, what do we do when the path of God’s purposes veers far off course, either because of our own choices or due to the actions of others? Is it possible that, even there, God is still at work?

Discussion

1. As you worked through the sessions in unit 3 (God Provides, Directs, Answers, Accompanies, and Permits), what frustrated you about the ways people behaved? About the ways God is depicted as behaving?
2. Were you able to recognize how God worked out God’s purposes in spite of people being “wild cards”? If so, in what ways? How did that change your perception of each story?
3. When are you tempted to put layers of modern interpretations on stories in the Bible? How does that affect the way you read them?
4. Why might it be important to read Bible stories with respect for the cultural norms they present and sometimes challenge?
5. What do you do when the path of God’s purposes veers far off course, either because of your own choices or due to the actions of others? Is it possible that, even there, God is still at work?

Reference Shelf

29:15-30. Laban rewards Jacob with Leah, then Rachel.

Here the source is E—note the introduction of Rachel as if for the first time (v. 16), ignoring her appearance earlier (vv. 9-12).

Laban’s deception of his nephew in substituting Leah for Rachel on the wedding night (v. 23) lends a touch of the farcical to the narrative—when morning came, it was Leah! (v. 24). The narrative suggests poetic justice for Jacob who had substituted himself for Esau (27:18-29). The entire saga of Jacob’s and Laban’s relationship (chaps. 29–31) will prove to be a battle of wits, which Jacob ultimately wins.

Bruce T. Dahlberg, “Genesis,” Mercer Commentary on the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1995), 113.

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor for Smyth & Helwys curriculum and books since 2001. She attends church and leads an adult Sunday school class in Macon, Georgia. She is also the office administrator for Jay’s HOPE, a local charity serving families of children with cancer. Kelley enjoys spending time with her daughters, Samantha (12) and Natalie (10) and her husband John. For fun, she tries to stay caught up on the latest amazing TV series (including Doctor Who, Sherlock, Gilmore Girls, and The Crown).

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