I want to begin our study by asking a rather simple question… What is love? Now if your immediate thought to that question is… “Baby don’t hurt me. Don’t hurt me. No more.” You’re ridiculous! I’m not referring to Haddaway’s 1993 platinum dance single “What Is Love” nor am I referencing the opening music to A Night at the Roxbury.
Instead, my question centers on the most mysterious of all human experiences. From poets to novelists to musicians, academics, theologians to philosophers, kings and peasants alike — everyone has struggled to define this “crazy little thing called love” (Queen).
The latest to provide a novel attempt at defining love has been Helen Fisher who is a member of the Center for Human Evolutionary Studies at Rutgers University. For those who don’t know Mrs. Fisher is a biological anthropologist, human behavioral researcher, and is considered to be the foremost scholar in the love research community.
Not only has she given two TED talks on the subject (basically sermons for secular people), but she was hired by chemistry.com to use her theories to create a hormone and personality-based matching system that would all but guarantee you the perfect date.
In her acclaimed book “Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love” Helen 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.
The first stage in this process she defines as Lust or the Drive for Sex… According to Mrs. Fisher the biological interactions that take place between two people via physical and emotional connections intend to initiate an increased release of the hormones testosterone and estrogen essential to the sex drive within men and women.
From there stage two commences which she calls Attraction or Romantic Love… Regarding her theory what facilitates this drive for sex (stage 1) are three neurotransmitters being released into the brain. Since increases in testosterone and estrogen activate a stress response increasing blood flow (stage 1), they in turn release adrenaline and cortisol. This is why a person’s heart races and they sweat when around their love interest.
In a sense, these simply 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 feeling of love, but leads to a deep longing to be around that person hoping to get lucky.
When sexual and physical stimulation finally occurs, 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.
The third and final stage ends up being Attachment or a Deep Feeling of Union… Because Fisher’s theory postulates that what we perceive to be love exists for the sole purpose of procreation and raising offspring, following sexual interactions, oxytocin (also known as the cuddle hormone) is released into the brian specifically to foster a bond and connection between individuals. Additionally, vasopressin is released which increases the innate desire to keep one’s partner from other suitors (monogamous) and therefore devoted.
While I’m not interested in debating any of the biology behind Helen’s thesis, there is 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 just a biological reaction in the brain (feelings based in one’s physiological reactions) and instead presents love as a decision of one’s will.
In the end, relegating love as being nothing more than hormonal and neurochemical reactions based solely upon physical and personality compatibilities between people aimed at the procreation of one’s genetic makeup, is not only depressing, but explains why so many marriages ultimately fail to last and why the sexual revolution within Western Culture over the last 70 years looks more like Planet of the Apes than Sleepless in Seattle.
So what is love? In our attempts to answer this question I want to take us to Genesis 29 where we have recorded the beginnings of one of the most unlikely of all love stories. By this end of this mornings message I hope you realize genuine, lasting love does not exist as an emotion yielding reactions, but is instead a willful action that yields emotions.
Genesis 29:1-12, “So Jacob went on his journey and came to the land of the people of the East. (For a measure of context Jacob has had to flee his home because his brother Esau wants to kill him for stealing the birthright. His plan it to find his mother Rebekah’s kin who live in Mesopotamia.) 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. And Jacob said to them (the shepherds), ‘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 Jacob 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.’ (Apparently this was such a large stone that is was very difficult to move alone.)
Now while Jacob was still speaking with them, Rachel came with her father’s sheep, for she was a shepherdess. 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.”
I love how this scene plays out… As Rachel approaches with her flocks she can’t help but notice a mysterious stranger staring at her. Imagine her surprise when this man takes off his shirt, flexes, and muscles up to “roll the stone from the well’s mouth” all by his lonesome.
Seeing that Rachel was impressed and giving him googly eyes as he proceeds to water her flock, Jacob goes in for the kill… We read, “Then Jacob kissed Rachel!” There is a connection! Jacob is overcome with emotion, but instead of playing it cool he gets weird. After this magical embrace with Rachel, Jacob proceeds to “lift his voice and weep!”
I imagine Rachel was a bit freaked out 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 great relief to Rachel knowing Jacob hadn’t wept because she hadn’t brushed her teeth that morning, had bad breathe, or was a bad kisser.
We’re told Rachel “runs off to tell her father” Laban. 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.”
It’s reasonable to assume Jacob anticipated his stay with Laban would only last a week or two as he awaited word from Rebekah it was safe to return home. As he waited Jacob 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 the boy 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 proposes a name-your-price dynamic. Because “Jacob loved Rachel” but didn’t exactly have the money to pay the dowry so that he could marry her, the hapless Casanova proposes 7 years of hard 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 the context of Rachel’s beauty, wasn’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 jack-pine 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 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 following morning when he awakens to find Leah sleeping beside him! Jacob thought he was marrying the beauty, when in reality he marries the beast!
While you can rightly understand Jacob’s obvious outrage (this was a dirty, unfair maneuver especially when you take into account he’d worked seven years under the pretense he’d marry Rachel), did you notice Laban’s justification for why he gave him Leah instead?
In verse 26 Laban explains to Jacob that it was illegal for a father to marry off a younger daughter before the firstborn meaning 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 saying, “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 have to retroactively work off her dowry over the next seven years as well.
Now the following 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 have sister wives 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. It was wrong!
For starters, polygamy was never God’s intended blueprint for marriage. In Matthew 19:4-5 Jesus says, “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!”
While this fact would be more than enough for Jacob to not 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. Zero 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 for Jacob to marry Leah. Yes! Laban wasn’t seeking the Lord and his deceit was wrong; however, I believe God providentially uses 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 which creates 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! Leah and Rachel had been innocent parties. This had been Laban’s deceit.
At no fault of her own Leah finds herself in a marital relationship with a man who not only failed to show her affection, but was openly in love and passionate with another women. And to make matters worse the other woman happened to be her sister Rachel — who just so happened to be a total knock out! Your heart goes out to poor Leah!
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. In turn, as no fault of her own, we’re told her sister “Rachel was barren.”
It’s powerful, but as we read through this text you can 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!”
There are two ways you can read this: First, it may be that after bearing Jacob four sons, each in a failed attempt at garnering his affection, Leah had come to peace with her situation. It should be pointed out her use of the word “LORD” (the personal name for God) indicated Leah undoubtedly possessed a personal relationship with her Maker.
There is little doubt Leah recognized God’s presence in her life — that He cared for her. In fact, Leah even affirms the reality “the Lord HAS looked on my affliction.” Once more this statement “the Lord had heard” implies Leah was a woman of prayer and the notion of “praise” indicates she was a worshipper of the true and Living God.
While true Leah may have come to trust God with her circumstances and find love in Him, there may be a second reason Leah declares, “Now I will praise the Lord” following the birth of Judah. Some scholars believe (and I complete agree) that between the birth of Levi and Judah Jacob’s heart had begun to soften towards Leah and that she’d finally started receiving the love and affection she so deeply longed for from her husband.
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 these few years in Haran Jacob learned to love and appreciate Leah — even more than he did Rachel! In a way you might say Jacob married the beauty, but grew to love the beast.
Aside from the evidence of this text, while on his deathbed in Egypt (Genesis 49:29-31), we’re provided a really interesting detail that backs up this idea. We read, “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.”
At the very beginning of their relationship Jacob lamented when he woke up following the consummation of his marriage because he found himself laying next to Leah! And yet, at the end of his life, the desire of Jacob’s heart was to be buried with Leah not Rachel. Jacob wanted to rest 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.
Realize, because of theories like Mrs. Fisher which claim physical attraction and emotional compatibility are essential to love, in our culture, we have developed the 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 in our brains become the primary drivers behind the marriage union itself, we end up tragically overemphasize being in love over the commitment to love! On account of these fundamental misconceptions should anyone be surprised that the majority of marriages fail when one or both parties no longer claim to be in love anymore!
Please realize this strange love story of Jacob and Leah blows this conventional wisdom completely out of the water! You see what this story teaches us is feeling love isn’t nearly as important as choosing to love. Leah loved and overtime Jacob came to love!
When it’s all said and done I believe this story illustrates a much larger reality we’d be wise to consider whether you’re married or planning to get married at some point. In a real way every person actually marries two different people: A Rachel and a Leah.
On one side there is Rachel who represents the person you fell head over heals in love with — the part of your spouse you’ve always been attracted to — the person you thought you were marrying — the part of their personality that’s easy to get along with — the Beauty!
But on the flip side everyone also marries Leah who represents that part of your spouse that was a surprise! Because you were so drunk with love when you were getting married, you were completely oblivious to that aspect of their personality until it was to late.
The Beast was hidden and veiled from view only to be seen after you started your life together. The I do becomes what have I done! Inevitably, the day comes when you roll over and see this person for the first time. You immediately think, “I’ve been tricked!”
On May 19, 2007 I became the luckiest guy alive when I married Jessica. Seriously, I not only out kicked my coverage, but I was fully aware I got the better end of the deal. My bride was a true Beauty! Compassionate, gracious, meek, tender and she love me of all people! After exchanging vows I whisked her away and we left to honeymoon in the Dominican.
To our dismay it took one day in the Caribbean sun for Jessica and I to get ourselves burnt. Clearly, the SPF 4 tanning oil we’d lathered up in did the job a little to well! While I was uncomfortable, poor Jessica with her Middle American skin took the brunt. By day three it was clear she had sun-poisoning. I say clear because her forehead swelled to the point she was more brain than pinky. You could literally leave a finger indention in her forehead.
To make matters worse on our return flight home the fluid moved from her forehead down around her eyes. Her nose disappeared! Standing at baggage claim I was getting dirty stares as if I was some kind of wife-beater. Four days before I married the Beauty, but now I was forced into loving the Beast. Praise Jesus two days of Benadryl reversed the effects!
In closing, what do you do when the Beauty you married reveals some beastly aspects of their personality you didn’t know existed? What do you do when the Rachel you believed you were marrying becomes Leah? For starters, complaining doesn’t change the situation. Self-pity doesn’t do any good. The blame game isn’t helpful. 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 changed Jacob’s perspective of Leah? What caused him to love her even more than Rachel? Our text indicates Jacob began to love and appreciate Leah when he saw the fruitfulness in his life was coming from her and not Rachel.
Here’s the tough pill to swallow… More often than not God will use the ugly traits in your spouse to force you to grow spiritually! Choosing to love the ugly is hard. There is an ugly part of your spouse that grates on you — that you find difficult, frustrating. It’s not pretty.
And yet, choosing to love the Leah anyway will inevitably make you into a better person and better spouse. Sadly, problems always rise to the surface in a marriage when you resent Leah as opposed to making the choice to love in spite of that ugliness. I’ve heard it said, “You can focus on the thorns on the rose or the rose amongst the thorns.”
Flip the script for a moment… Jacob was so ugly to Leah, but what did she do? Instead of resenting her husband, Leah decided to love him anyway, refused to give up, and took her cares to the God who cared. In the end Jacob’s love grew as a reciprocation of her love!Shouldn’t we all be grateful and thankful Jesus does this with you and I! As His bride there is a lot more beast than beauty in us! And yet, Jesus still loves us anyway!
Marriage is incredibly difficult mainly because it was instituted by God before sin entered the human equation. My friends, anyone can love the beauty, but the only way your marriage survives is when you make the tough choice to also love the beast.
It should be pointed out in addition to being the mother of Levi who’s descendants would become the priestly tribe of Israel, the stalk of Leah’s fourth son Judah would become the kings of Israel! When it was all said and done the Messianic lineage of Jesus would manifest not through Jacob’s relationship with Rachel, but through 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 that yields emotions. You can choose to love anyone! 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! Will you do the same?
No Additional Links.