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I enjoy a good love story. I’m talking romance, not necessarily sex. Perhaps I love them even more after all these years because I haven’t known much romance in my life. I’m a romantic person who had very little opportunity to express that side of me, in either gender role.
The Bible has a number of beautiful love stories. Some of them also had a bit of tarnish on them. The love that Jacob had for Rachel is both beautiful and tarnished.
The eldest servant of Abraham, Jacob’s grandfather, was sent to Padanaram to find a wife for Jacob’s father, Isaac. That wife, Rebecca, would favor Jacob over his twin brother, Esau (the elder brother by a matter of a few moments). It was Rebecca who also suggested that Jacob personally go to Padanaram to find his own wife. The journey would also help Jacob escape the wrath of Esau, the one that he cheated out of a birthright and the best blessing.
It was quite a journey for Jacob, a man heretofore content to stay in the camp and dwell in tents. Most significant of all, he has a direct encounter with the Lord at Bethel and vows that if the Lord takes care of him on this journey, the Lord will be Jacob’s God.
This sets the stage for Jacob to arrive at the land of his grandfather’s people. And when he arrives, the first woman he lays eyes upon his Rachel, not unlike Abraham’s servant encountering Rebecca as the first woman he approaches. And both encounters take place at sources of water, a most precious commodity to the sheep ranchers of the Middle East.
At this time in her life, Rachel is the keeper of her family’s flock, a shepherdess. As she approaches the well, Jacob is conversing with the men about the proper procedures of sheep (cattle) ranching.
And he said, Lo, it is yet high day, neither is it time that the cattle should be gathered together: water ye the sheep, and go and feed them. And they said, We cannot, until all the flocks be gathered together, and till they roll the stone from the well’s mouth; then we water the sheep. – Genesis 29:7-8
Notice that the men of that place are not rolling away the stone. They are waiting for “they” to do it for them.
But when Rachel arrives with her flocks, Jacob himself rolls away the stone from the well and waters the sheep. (This is the reverse of the encounter between Abraham’s servant and Rebecca. At that time, Rebecca gave the servant a drink and also watered the servant’s camels.)
Having impressed Rachel with his gallant gesture, Jacob goes to Rachel and kisses her. (Okay, I’m enhancing the text here a bit, romantic that I am. But he did kiss her.) Then he identifies himself as family.
This is where the love story of Jacob and Rachel begins. And here is where it quickly gets sullied. Jacob’s Uncle Laban, father of Rachel, gets involved. Perhaps Laban has gotten wilier in his older years. Perhaps he realizes he is dealing this time with a suitor, not a servant. Perhaps both. But it soon becomes clear that Jacob, the conniver and supplanter, is from the same gene pool as Laban. However, Laban is more experienced and Jacob at first appears to have met his match.
Jacob’s bargaining skills are blinded by the stars in his eyes for Rachel. He agrees to work for seven years for Laban to obtain Rachel’s hand in marriage. And Jacob’s love for Rachel is so strong that seven years seem like only a few days for him. Ladies, could a suitor be any more devoted than that?
Here’s where Laban gets the better of Jacob. Apparently there was no formal wedding ceremony in those days where the bride and groom stood together before someone to marry them. As a wealthy man and father of the bride, Laban has a feast and then delivers the bride to the groom for their wedding night. But lo and behold, when Jacob awakes the next morning, it is Rachel’s older sister, Leah, next to him. Laban wants to marry off his oldest daughter first, and he tricks Jacob to do so.
Jacob works seven more years for Rachel, although this time Laban doesn’t make Jacob wait more than a week. Apparently Leah was entitled to a conjugal week.
Now we have the advantage of hindsight to know how the story turns out. After another seven years, Jacob wants to take his growing family and return to his home in Canaan. This time Laban is in the position of desperate bargainer. For fourteen years, he has seen how the Lord has blessed whatever Jacob does. He doesn’t want to lose Jacob and that blessing on his ranching operation. So now Jacob can name his price. And at first it looks like Jacob is a poor negotiator once again. But it gives Jacob the opportunity to fleece Laban this time. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist the pun.) And soon, Jacob has accumulated great and healthy flocks of his own to go back home with. And when he sees that Laban and his sons are starting to turn against him, Jacob decides that it is time to get out of Dodge.
Through all these machinations, Jacob eventually fathers the twelve sons who become heads of the tribes of Israel. And on the way back to meet up with Esau once again, Jacob has another encounter with the Lord (a wrestling match this time: how many people would be more afraid of their brother than the creator of all things?) that leads to him being given the name by which the nation would be known: Israel. Regardless of why God chose to have things happen this way, they happened.
It was by Leah that Levi was born, becoming the tribe of priests. Leah’s fourth son, Judah, named for her praise of the Lord, would become the ruling tribe. When peace finally comes, all the people shall be gathered unto him.
It was by Rachel that Joseph was born. He was the one who emerged from prison to save his people and forgive his brothers.
Almost all the pieces of the picture, the foreshadows, are present in this fascinating, imperfect love story. But it never comes to full fruition, never comes together in one person: not until Jesus, the lion of Judah, the son of David, the Prince of Peace, Emmanuel, the Alpha and the Omega from everlasting to everlasting.
Jesus is the Passover lamb, the perfect lamb without spot or blemish, whose sacrifice once forever saves the people from their sins. But He is also the Good Shepherd. His sheep hear His voice and follow Him.
Jesus is the priest after the order of Melchizedek, without beginning or end. But He also sits at the right hand of God the father. The scepter never departs from His hand and He shall be the righteous judge of all.
Jacob, in fathering twelve sons, was in a sense the creator of the nation. He is another picture that points to Jesus:
For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. – Colossians 1:16-17
In addition to being the sheep, the shepherd (Rachel), the priest (Levi), the ruler (Judah), the savior (Joseph) who also preached to the spirits in prison (1st Peter 3:19), the sacrificial love (Jacob for Rachel) that gave His life for us while we were yet sinners and at enmity with God, the way to the Father (Bethel) and the creator (Jacob/Israel), Jesus is also the life-giving water in the story. Jesus is the living water: those who drink of Him shall never thirst. Water is also an image associated with the Word of God. Jesus is the word made flesh to have free course: those who partake of it will never hunger.
Furthermore, Jesus is the light who has come into the world. Whether as the pillar of fire by night or in the burning bush (for example), it was always God who brought the light to the scene. This is also true figuratively, as when God enlightened Joseph with the interpretation of Pharaoh’s dreams. Nothing physical in the story of Jacob, Rachel and the children of Israel could be a foreshadowing of the light that illuminates the darkness.
The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined. For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this. – Isaiah 9:2,6-7
In order for there to be the victory of Easter, there had to be the hope that was born of Christmas.
When Jesus hung on the cross of Calvary, the sun was darkened. Earthquakes tore the veil of the temple in two and opened the ground, including graves that saw their occupants come to life. A couple of days later, another earthquake rolled the stone away. No person had to do so this time.
As dawn’s light filled the sky on that Resurrection Sunday, so too did the Gospel message have valid proof. “An empty grave is there to prove my Savior lives.”
The stone has been rolled away. It is time to water the sheep. It will be time to water the sheep until Jesus returns. As Christians, we are to be the clay pots to carry the water to the troughs. Whatever else our lot in life may be, this is our first responsibility, our great commission.
And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. – Mark 16:15