I want to begin this mornings study with a simple question… What is love? Have you ever heard the name Helen Fisher? Helen Fisher, who’s had two TED talks, is a biological anthropologist, human behavioral researcher, and is considered to be the foremost scholar in the love research community. She’s a Member of the Center For Human Evolutionary Studies at Rutgers University and was hired by match.com to create chemistry.com which uses her research to create both hormone-based and personality-based matching systems.
In her acclaimed book “Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love” Mrs. Fisher postulates that what we consider to be love is really nothing more than the evolution of three systems in the human brain central for mating and reproduction.
Stage 1: Lust: Sex Drive… According to Helen the biological interactions that take place between two people via physical and emotional connections initiate an increased release of the hormones testosterone and estrogen essential to the sex drive within men and women.
Stage 2: Attraction: Romantic Love… To facilitate this biological drive for sex three neurotransmitters are released in the brain. First, since increases in testosterone and estrogen activate a stress response increasing blood flow, they also release adrenaline and cortisol - which is why a person’s heart races and they sweat when around their love interest.
In a sense, these biological interactions lead to a connection that in turn revs up the engine. At this point, serotonin is released into the brain which not only causes the “love feeling,” but leads to a deep, even obsessive longing to be around that person hoping to get lucky.
When sexual and physical stimulation finally do occur the body proceeds to flood the brain with dopamine stimulating an euphoric rush within a person’s pleasure sensors. Because this takes place in the “desire and reward” center, the body craves repeated behavior.
Stage 3: Attachment: Deep Feeling of Union… Because evolutionary theory postulates what we perceive as love exists for the sole purpose of procreation and raising offspring, following sexual interactions, oxytocin (also known as the cuddle hormone) is released to foster a bond and connection between the individuals. In addition, vasopressin is released which increases a desire to keep one’s partner from other suitors and therefore devotion.
And while I’m not interested in debating any of the biology behind Helen’s thesis, I do see one HUGE flaw in her argument… Aside from the fact marital love exists to yield human oneness from within gender diversity - with procreation being a secondary aim, the Bible presents love as being much more than biological responses (feelings based in one’s physiological reactions) and instead presents love as a decision of one’s will.
Sadly, relegating love to being nothing more than hormone and neurochemical reactions based upon physical and personality compatibilities aimed solely at the procreation of one’s genetic makeup kind of explains why so many marriages fail to last and why the sexual revolution within Western Culture looks a lot like Planet of the Apes.
So what is love? In this mornings text we’re actually going to witness one of the most unlikely love stories, and in doing so come to see that real, genuine, lasting love does not exist as an emotion yielding reactions, but is instead a willful action yielding emotions.
Genesis 29:1-9, “So Jacob went on his journey and came to the land of the people of the East. And he looked, and saw a well in the field; and behold, there were three flocks of sheep lying by it; for out of that well they watered the flocks. A large stone was on the well’s mouth. Now all the flocks would be gathered there; and they would roll the stone from the well’s mouth, water the sheep, and put the stone back in its place on the well’s mouth. (That detail will be important in just a moment.)
And Jacob said to them, ‘My brethren, where are you from?’ And they said, ‘We are from Haran.’ Then he said to them, ‘Do you know Laban the son of Nahor?’ And they said, ‘We know him.’ So he said to them, ‘Is he well?’ And they said, ‘He is well. And look, his daughter Rachel is coming with the sheep.’
Then Jacob said, ‘Look, it is still high day; it is not time for the cattle to be gathered together. Water the sheep, and go and feed them.’ But they said, ‘We cannot until all the flocks are gathered together, and they have rolled the stone from the well’s mouth; then we water the sheep.’ Now while he was still speaking with them, Rachel came with her father’s sheep, for she was a shepherdess.
After a 500 mile journey Jacob has finally reached the outskirts of Haran when he “sees a well in the field” with a large contingency of people watering their flocks. Not only does this seem to be a smart starting place for his quest to find Laban, but I can imagine hearing the story of how Eliezer found Rebekah by a well probably played a role in his approach.
Genesis 29:10-12, “And it came to pass, when Jacob saw Rachel the daughter of Laban his mother’s brother, and the sheep of Laban his mother’s brother, that Jacob went near and rolled the stone from the well’s mouth, and watered the flock of Laban his mother’s brother. Then Jacob kissed Rachel, and lifted up his voice and wept. And Jacob told Rachel that he was her father’s relative and that he was Rebekah’s son. So she ran and told her father.”
Since it was customary that all the herdsmen arrive to water their flocks at once, on account of her tardiness, Rachel is in a tight spot. By the time she arrives the well has already been re-covered. And yet, in an incredible twist, Rachel’s tardiness provided Jacob the perfect opportunity to show off his guns and make a lasting first impression.
I imagine Rachel knows she’s running behind schedule, she arrives frantic, sees the well is already covered, and is obviously a bit flustered by the situation. However, to her surprise this strange man comes to her rescue seemingly out of nowhere. Jacob takes off his shirt, flexes, then muscles up and “rolls the stone from the well’s mouth” all by his lonesome.
Well, seeing that Rachel was clearly impressed and was now giving him googly eyes, Jacob goes in for the kill… We read, “Then Jacob kissed Rachel!” There is a connection! WOW! What a moment! Jacob is overcome with obvious emotion, but instead of keeping all that to himself and playing it cool he allows things to get a little weird. We’re told, after this magical embrace with Rachel, what does Jacob do? He proceeds to “lift his voice and weep!”
Once again I imagine Rachel, as any women, was a bit wigged out and freaked by Jacob’s reaction to this kiss - at least until he explains who he is, why he’s come to town, and why he’s so overcome with emotion. I’m sure it was a relief to Rachel knowing Jacob hadn’t wept on account of her forgetting to brush her teeth that morning or being a bad kisser.
We’re told Rachel “runs off to tell her father” Laban. Now typically this wouldn’t have been a good development when you’d just planted an unsolicited kiss on a young women; and yet, in this situation, it turned out to be just fine. There’s no doubt Rachel was giddy with excitement having heard all of the stories of her aunt Rebekah and the mysterious Isaac.
Genesis 29:13-14, “Then it came to pass, when Laban heard the report about Jacob his sister’s son, that he ran to meet him, and embraced him and kissed him, and brought him to his house. So Jacob told Laban all these things. And Laban said to him, ‘Surely you are my bone and my flesh.’ And he stayed with him for a month.”
As we discussed last Sunday Jacob was sent away under very difficult circumstances. He was fleeing from his brother Esau who was bent on killing him on account Jacob had tricked their blind father Isaac into giving him the birthright. Then, on the way to Haran hoping to track down Rebekah’s brother Laban, God met him and gave him incredible promises.
Now, upon his arrival to Haran, after such an uncertain journey, Jacob’s fears immediately subside as he’s not only found Laban, but discovered his cousin Rachel was a babe!
It’s responsible to assume Jacob anticipated his stay with Laban would only last a week or two as he awaited word from Rebekah that it was safe to return home, but while there he rightfully put himself to work helping around the house giving him more time with Rachel.
In a twist, a few days turned into a week… Then a few weeks turned into a month with still no word from Isaac or Rebekah. It’s at this point both Jacob and Laban each come to the same conclusion this stay might end up lasting a bit longer than anyone had anticipated.
Genesis 29:15-19, “Then Laban said to Jacob, ‘Because you are my relative, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell me, what should your wages be?’ Now Laban had two daughters: the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. Leah’s eyes were delicate, but Rachel was beautiful of form and appearance. Now Jacob loved Rachel; so he said, ‘I will serve you seven years for Rachel your younger daughter.’ And Laban said, ‘It is better that I give her to you than that I should give her to another man. Stay with me.’”
Realizing Jacob’s temporary visit might turn into a permanent stay - and seeing that Jacob was chipping in around the home free of charge, Laban does the honorable thing by offering Jacob a job and therefore a more indelible position. According to our text, Laban (probably knowing what Jacob would say) proposes a name-your-price dynamic.
Well, because “Jacob loved Rachel” but didn’t exactly have the money to pay the dowry so that he could marry her, Casanova proposes 7 years of labor for the right to marry his love.
Before we move on verse 17 provides an interesting detail relevant to what’s about to take place. While Rachel the younger “was beautiful of form and appearance” (meaning she was a ten), we’re told the older of Laban’s two daughters Leah - well her “eyes were delicate.”
The idea behind this phrase “Leah’s eyes were delicate,” especially in context of Rachel’s obvious beauty, isn’t that Leah had poor eyesight but that she was literally a cause for sore eyes. Basically, Leah was light on the eyes - a swamp dolphin. She was a 50 footer, a brown-paper-bagger, a butter face, a two o’clock beauty queen. You might say Leah was eye broccoli, grizzled chicken, a jackpine savage. She had a face only a mother could love.
Genesis 29:20, “So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed only a few days to him because of the love he had for her.”
Wow! What a statement! These seven years Jacob is working for Laban free of charge seemed like “only a few days because of the love he had for her.” To all my single ladies I want to point out how you can tell if a man genuinely loves you or is simply lusting after you.
As it pertains to sex only true love is willing to wait for marriage. If your man is trying to get in your pants… If he’s pressuring you to make concessions… If he’s so horny he can’t respect your boundaries… If he isn’t willing to be patient and wait, then he doesn’t love you and is instead more interested in what he can get from you. Lust is selfish while love is selfless.
Genesis 29:21-27, “Then Jacob said to Laban, ‘Give me my wife, for my days are fulfilled, that I may go in to her.’ And Laban gathered together all the men of the place and made a feast. Now it came to pass in the evening, that he took Leah his daughter and brought her to Jacob; and he went in to her. And Laban gave his maid Zilpah to his daughter Leah as a maid.
So it came to pass in the morning, that behold, it was Leah. And Jacob said to Laban, ‘What is this you have done to me? Was it not for Rachel that I served you? Why then have you deceived me?’ And Laban said, ‘It must not be done so in our country, to give the younger before the firstborn. Fulfill her week, and we will give you this one also for the service which you will serve with me still another seven years.’”
How ironic Jacob the heal-catcher ends up getting tricked by Laban in almost the identical way he swindled his father Isaac? Under Laban’s direction Leah veils herself, pretends to be Rachel, Jacob marries her, gets hammered, consummates the relationship, only to then discover the ruse the next morning when he awakens to find Leah sleeping beside him! Jacob thought he was marrying the beauty, when in reality he marries the beast!
And while you can rightly understand Jacob’s obvious outrage (this was a dirty, unfair maneuver especially when you take into account he’s worked seven years for the right to marry Rachel), did you notice Laban’s justification for why he gave Jacob Leah instead?
In verse 26 Laban tells Jacob that because it was illegal for a father to marry off a younger daughter before the firstborn he was just obeying the laws of the land. He says, “It must not be done so in our country, to give the younger before the firstborn.” In a sense Laban is telling Jacob, “In our country we actually have respect for the firstborn!” Oh the burn!
While Laban’s scheme was given a measure of justification by the legal system of Haran, his proposed solution to this regrettable situation reveals his true, underlying intention. He tells Jacob, “If you’re willing to work another seven years, I’ll let you marry Rachel as well!”
Genesis 29:28-30, “Then Jacob did so and fulfilled her week. So Laban gave him his daughter Rachel as wife also. And Laban gave his maid Bilhah to his daughter Rachel as a maid. Then Jacob also went in to Rachel, and he also loved Rachel more than Leah. And he served with Laban still another seven years.”
Talk about messed up! Jacob is bamboozled into marrying Leah and then, in what seems to be a kind gesture by the master swindler, Laban allows him to marry Rachel with the caveat he’ll retroactively work off her dowry over the next seven years as well.
Now the question begs our consideration… Should Jacob have married Rachel when he was already legally married to Leah? In a sense… Was it ok for Jacob to marry both of these sisters considering Laban’s deception and Jacob’s innocence in the matter?
Though we can all understand Leah was not the woman Jacob loved nor the woman he intended to marry, the reality is that he shouldn’t have married Rachel.
For starters, polygamy was never God’s intended design for marriage. In Matthew 19:4-5 Jesus was clear “that God made them at the beginning male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’” Additionally, in Matthew 6:24, Jesus appears to even point out the fundamental problem with polygamy when He says, “No man can serve two masters.”
And while this fact would be more than reason enough for Jacob not to marry Rachel, please consider another aspect to this story often overlooked… Which of these two women did the Lord want Jacob to marry? Have you noticed what is weirdly absent from this entire narrative? There is no mention of Jacob praying, no mention of him consulting with the Lord about marrying Rachel. Ironically, God is eerily absent from every aspect of this story.
I’m convinced that while Jacob wanted to marry Rachel it had been God’s plan all along that Jacob marry Leah instead. Yes! Laban wasn’t seeking the Lord and his deceit was wrong; however, I believe the providential God ends up using this situation to insure Jacob ends up with the right woman. Tragically, instead of trusting God and adjusting to a new life with Leah, Jacob also marries Rachel creating a toxic and dysfunctional home life.
Genesis 29:31-35, “When the Lord saw that Leah was unloved, He opened her womb; but Rachel was barren. So Leah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Reuben; for she said, ‘The Lord has surely looked on my affliction. Now therefore, my husband will love me.’ Then she conceived again and bore a son, and said, ‘Because the Lord has heard that I am unloved, He has therefore given me this son also.’ And she called his name Simeon.
She conceived again and bore a son, and said, ‘Now this time my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.’ Therefore his name was called Levi. And she conceived again and bore a son, and said, ‘Now I will praise the Lord.’ Therefore she called his name Judah. Then she stopped bearing.”
How brutal it must have been for Leah knowing she was “unloved” by her husband - that her younger sister Rachel was preferred - that Jacob only married her because he’d been tricked! Note: Because in a patriarchal system children had to obey the instructions of their father, both Leah and Rachel had been innocent parties. This had been Laban’s deceit.
Leah was in a relationship with a man who not only failed to show her affection, but was openly in love and passionate with another women - her sister, who just so happened to be a knock out! And yet, seeing her plight and understanding her situation, we’re told the Lord looked compassionately upon Leah and “opened her womb” so that she could bear children while her sister “Rachel was barren.” Note: Rachel’s barrenness wasn’t a divine judgment.
It’s powerful, but as we read through this text you can sense, feel Leah’s deep emotional longing for Jacob’s love. With the birth of each son Leah hopes and prays her husband would come to love and cherish her; and yet, with each time, nothing seems to change.
Finally, upon the birth of her fourth son “Judah” Leah declares “now I will praise the Lord!” And there are two ways you can read this… It maybe that after bearing Jacob four sons, each in a failed attempt at garnering his affection, that Leah had come to peace with her situation. It should be noted that her use of the word “LORD” (the personal name for God) indicated Leah undoubtedly possessed a personal relationship with the Lord.
There is little doubt Leah recognized God’s presence in her life (“the Lord has looked on my affliction”) and that this statement “the Lord had heard” implied she was a woman of prayer and the notion of “praise” that Leah was a worshipper of the true and Living God.
While it’s true Leah may have come to trust God with her circumstances and find love in Him, it may also be that between the birth of Levi and Judah Jacob’s heart had softened towards Leah and that she’d finally begun to receive the love and affection she so deeply longed for.
Though the Bible is unequivocal that Jacob initially loved Rachel more than Leah, there is a strong Scriptural case that can be made that over the course of years Jacob learned to love and appreciate Leah - even more than he did Rachel! That Jacob grew to love Leah.
Aside from the evidence of this text, while on his deathbed in Egypt (Genesis 49:29-31), Jacob “charged his sons and said: ‘I am to be buried with my fathers in the cave where they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife, Isaac and Rebekah his wife, and where I buried Leah.”
How interesting that at the very beginning of their relationship Jacob lamented when he awoke to find himself laying next to Leah - only to, by the end of his life, desire nothing more than to be laid next to her until the final resurrection. In the end Leah became his beloved.
“Wait a second Pastor Zach! Are you saying Jacob should have stayed married to Leah even though he didn’t love her?” Yes… That’s exactly what I’m saying. Please understand, because of theories promoted like Helen Fisher’s that physical attraction and emotional compatibility are essential to love, we have developed this incorrect notion that the key to a successful marriage is finding the right person to marry.
Then, because sexual desire and the chemical feelings that result from the relationship are the primary drivers behind the marriage we tragically overemphasize being in love over the commitment to love. Should there be any surprise that marriages fail when one or both parties are no longer in love… No longer feeling it? Sadly, they’re no longer loving.
Please realize this strange love story of Jacob and Leah blow this out of the water! The key to marriage isn’t finding the right person as much as it’s being the right person. Feeling love isn’t nearly as important as deciding to love. Leah loved and overtime Jacob came to love!
I believe that this story illustrates a much larger reality we should consider. In a sense every person marries two different people: A Rachel and a Leah. On one side there is Rachel who represents the person you love, the part of your spouse you’re attracted to, the person you thought you were marrying, the part that’s easy to get along with.
But on the flip side everyone also marries a Leah who represents that part of your spouse that was a surprise! Because you were so drunk with love you were oblivious to that aspect of their personality until it was to late. You see the ugly was hidden and veiled from view only to be seen after you got married - after you said, “I do!” When you finally roll over one morning to see this person for the first time you think to yourself, “I’ve been tricked!”
And it’s in this moment the question arises… What do you do with the Leah? Complaining doesn’t change the situation. Self-pity doesn’t do any good? As a matter of fact, there really isn’t anything you can do to change the ugly. Like Leah it’s who they are.
Consider… What eventually changed Jacob’s perspective of Leah? What it was that caused him to love her even more than Rachel? The case can be made that Jacob began to love Leah when he saw that the fruitfulness in his life was coming from her and not Rachel.
Here’s the tough pill to swallow… More often than not God uses the ugly traits in your spouse to force you to grow spiritually. Now I’m not saying this is applicable to violence or cheating. What I’m referring to is accepting your spouses’ humanness. As it pertained to Leah, she couldn’t change her ugliness. It wasn’t a sin. She was simply that way.
So often problems arise in a marriage when you refuse to love Leah as opposed to choosing to love in spite of the ugliness. I’ve heard it said, “We can focus on the thorns on the rose or the rose amongst the thorns.” You see Jacob was able to love and appreciate his Leah when looked beyond the ugly and finally accepted her as she was.
I’m grateful Jesus does this with you and I! It should be pointed out that in addition to being the mother of Levi - who’d become the priestly tribe of Israel, Leah’s fourth son Judah would become the kingly tribe and one in which Jesus would ultimately descend. How so very interesting that the Messianic line of Christ descended not through Rachel, but ugly Leah.
Friend, let me say it again… Real, genuine, lasting love does not exist as an emotion yielding reactions, but is instead a willful action yielding emotions. You can choose to love anyone! The truth is that Jacob had zero physical attraction to Leah and on the surface they weren’t compatible; and yet, as a result of Leah’s decision to love Jacob anyway, over time Jacob learned to love and appreciate the woman God had placed in his life!
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