Family life in the UK is changing. More than half of the children born to mothers of British origin are born outside of marriage. I’ve heard people say ‘marriage is just a piece of paper’, but it is much more than that. As a Christian I believe that marriage is a precious gift to humanity from God himself; it’s his idea after all. But even for those with no faith, surely marriage makes sense. A relationship where promises are made, assets and responsibilities are shared and is stable, has to be preferable to the ‘let’s stay together for now’ attitude we often see.
A marriage doesn’t guarantee happiness or stability as we can see in today’s reading. Polygamy is never sanctioned in the Scriptures and it is usually accompanied by misery. That is certainly the case here, where we have Leah unloved and desperate for Jacob’s approval, Rachel desperate for a child and blaming Jacob and Jacob angry with Rachel, and we haven’t even considered Bilhah and Zilpah being used as pawns in a struggle for power.
Jacob was tricked into marrying Leah and it was obvious to everyone that he really loved her sister Rachel. In spite of his love for Rachel, Jacob it seems, was quite happy to have sex with Leah. Sex should be part of loving and intimate committed relationship, but sadly, it isn’t always the case. It’s used in many ways today, to sell, to empower and for personal gratification to name just few. We’ve taken the intimate and made it public with huge numbers addicted to pornography where women are objectified and sex is meaningless. We know that sex doesn’t mean love, yet like Leah, many seek I intimacy, value and love through sex only to find they are left feeling lonely, undervalued and unloved.
There’s sadness in today’s reading. They are not exactly playing ‘Happy Families’ are they? Rachel is miserable because she is unable to conceive and we have seen before in Genesis just how traumatic that can be. But if I’m honest, it’s Leah’s situation that moves me most. Her sister is beautiful and it would appear she’s not, her husband is completely besotted with her beautiful sister and she is trapped in a loveless marriage. We can see her thinking as she names her first three sons;
“It is because the LORD has seen my misery. Surely my husband will love me now.” (29:32)
“Because the LORD heard that I am not loved, he gave me this one too.” (29:33)
“Now at last my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.” (29:34)
Her expectations seem to be getting lower with every child. Leah was certainly in a loveless marriage but it would be wrong to say that she was unloved. God saw her misery and gave her the blessing of children. What’s more, it was Leah who gave birth to Judah and it was from his descendants that Messiah would eventually come. When we look at our Lord’s ancestors we see the same things that we see in our own families, some nice people and some dodgy characters and there it will say; Judah son of Jacob (Matthew 1:3, Luke 3:33-34). The greatest promise given to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; that all nations would be blessed through their descendants is fulfilled through the son of Leah – the one who wasn’t beautiful or loved by her husband.
When Judah was born, Leah didn’t seem to look for Jacob’s approval; “This time I will praise the LORD.” Judah means ‘praise’ and it appears for a moment, Leah was able to see the big picture and respond to God’s goodness with praise. She may have been in an unhappy marriage but she was loved. God loved Leah
My spirit rest in you alone, you’re all I know,
Embrace and touch me, like a child, I’m safe in you.
You’re my shelter through it all,
You’re my refuge and my strength.
Lord I hide in the shadow of your wings.
My Lord you’re faithful, you supply all good things.
You know completely, all my thoughts, my deepest needs. (Rueben Morgan)