See? I knew it was a bad idea for Jacob to go searching for a wife among his mother’s people. He travels back home and meets up with Uncle Laban and falls in love with Rachel, Uncle Laban’s daughter. He asks Uncle Laban for Rachel’s hand in marriage, and Laban agrees, but only if Jacob works for him for seven years first. Jacob’s so deeply in love, he agrees. He puts in his seven years, which pass by like the blink of an eye–that’s how in love he is.
The wedding day arrives and — surprise! — Uncle Laban deceives Jacob by dressing the older sister, Leah, up as Rachel. Massive deception seems to be a family tradition.
Of course, Jacob doesn’t discover the deception until after the wedding night, at which point Uncle Laban blandly announces that of course he had to switch brides. It’s unheard of in his country to let the younger daughter marry first. Okay, I get that. But wouldn’t you think he could have mentioned this at some point during the past seven years?
Don’t despair, Laban tells his distraught nephew, you can still have Rachel if you just put in another seven years. Jacob agrees, eventually marries Rachel, and they all live happily ever after in peace and harmony. Or not. Amazingly, Rachel and Leah have feelings of resentment toward each other. Leah produces some sons. Rachel is barren. Offering a handmaiden as a concubine worked so well for Abraham, Sarah and Hagar, Jacob and his wives follow another old family tradition and get the wives’ handmaidens involved so we have a nice five-sided relationship.
Eventually, Rachel conceives and gives birth to a son, Joseph.
Going off on a little side note here to mention that one of my favorite movies is Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. I was lucky enough, thanks to my sister, to see the play performed live with Donny Osmond in the title roll. His performance of “Close Every Door to Me” never fails to make me cry. In fact, all I have to do is think about the song, and I get a big old lump in my throat.
All this to say that, as I’ve mentioned before, I’ve never been able to understand parents or grandparents who play obvious favorites. But after reading about Jacob and Rachel’s ill-fated love and Laban’s deception, I kind of get why Jacob favored Joseph of all his sons. Kind of. I mean, it wasn’t the boys’ fault that their grandfather deceived dear old dad, but for a while Joseph was the only son of the wife Jacob truly loved. So I kind of get how Jacob felt.
So Jacob, through these four women, produces twelve sons. God changes Jacob’s name to Israel, and the twelve tribes of Israel are formed. I understand that God sometimes goes to elaborate means to accomplish His purposes and, like I’ve said before, I know that God has reasons for doing what He does. I may not understand for creating the twelve tribes in this way that seems convoluted to the human brain. Maybe Rachel wasn’t strong enough physically to bear twelve sons. Maybe Leah wasn’t either. Maybe creating the divisions between the sons allowed for other events that had to take place in order for other important events to eventually transpire.
And maybe it was simply a matter of free agency. God grants us the freedom to choose what we do for ourselves. He doesn’t force us to make the right choice. He doesn’t interfere with our agency. He allows us to make choices, and He also allows us to live with the consequences of the choices we’ve made.
Sometimes, the choices we make create some pretty convoluted results. But the great thing about God is that no matter how twisted up we get our lives, He’s always there to lead us through and help us get to the other side. And no matter how painful the circumstances may become to us based on other peoples’ choices, He always allows us the chance to make something good out of the bad that comes our way.
Every single day, He allows us to choose whether to be happy and filled with gratitude, or whether to be bitter, angry and filled with fear. Every single day. Every single hour. Every single minute. And reading the story of Jacob and Rachel and Leah and the handmaidens, and Joseph and his eleven brothers has reminded me of that. What others do is their choice. How I react is my choice. Every single day.