In my teenage years, I enjoyed reading the Genesis account of Jacob and Rachel. The way the Bible describes Jacob’s love for her shows just how smitten he was. Genesis chapter 29, verse 20 says, “So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.”
I even used to think that the purpose of this story was to show Christian men how they should pursue women, and to show women how they should be pursued by Christian men.
While this might seem like the perfect love story at first glance, there is more than meets the eye.
What else can we see in this story? Is there another purpose?
I now see the Genesis account of Jacob and Rachel telling us that God wins every time. However, secondary lessons can be learned from this too. Jacob and Rachel’s story is also a perfect example of how we often idolise our earthly desires.
First and foremost, this account points to Jesus and how we must pursue Him first, leaving all other desires a distant second. Even Jacob struggled with this for most of his life, and it was only toward the end of his life that he realised God must come first (see Genesis chapters 32-33).
Jacob was so infatuated with Rachel, he idolised her from the very beginning, believing that he would only be happy if he could have this perfect woman.
This idea still exists today. When people idolise their significant other, or believe they can only be happy if they get to marry a certain person, this is idolatry.
If we let another person be the source of all our energy and our joy, we are actually robbing ourselves of real joy that can only be found through the saving grace of Jesus. As American preacher and author Timothy Keller put it, “If you add anything to Jesus as a requirement to being happy, that’s your real king”.
Jacob’s attraction to Rachel appeared to be strongly linked to her physical appearance. Genesis chapter 29, verse 17 says that “Leah's eyes were weak, but Rachel was beautiful of form and face”. It is interesting that she is specifically described as beautiful, the full package – but Leah not. This is an example maybe of how superficial desires can distract us from seeing someone’s spiritual maturity.
Interestingly, it is through Jacob and Leah’s line that Judah is born – and ultimately Jesus. It makes us wonder whether Jacob was so consumed by his own desires, that it prevented him from being able to see God’s will.
Rachel is initially barren and she longs to bear children. Jacob fathers children to Leah and other maidservants. We see here another example of idolatry – but in this circumstance, it is Rachel idolising the idea of bearing children.
The desperation for childbearing causes Rachel to encourage Jacob to lay with her sister and maidservants, without hesitation. Leah on the other hand, is filled with grief and longs for her husband, Jacob, to love her in the way he loves Rachel, although he never does.
Again, we see Leah consumed with the desire of being loved by Jacob, and Rachel consumed with the idea of bearing children. This love story is quickly becoming a mess. It is not really the ideal tale we would want for ourselves, but God is gracious and merciful – so even when bad situations arise, He still uses it for His glory.
How should we respond to the Genesis account of Jacob and Rachel?
This is the love story where God wins, because we see that pursuing Him first leads us to real joy and fulfillment. Just like Jacob, sometimes we only come to realise this after we have been through a mess ourselves.
Psalm 107, verse 9 says, “For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things”. Christ should be the source of all our joy. We should pursue Him first so that everything else, including love interests, romantic relationships, and starting a family through childbearing, come a very distant second. When and if these desires come about, it should also be in a way that glorifies and honours God.
Furthermore, when God is not at the centre of one’s life, or a relationship, it can quickly become a mess.
Some desires are not necessarily sinful in themselves, but they become sinful when they consume our lives and are prioritised above God and consequently turn into idolatry.
Thousands of years later, there is still nothing new under the sun. Today, people continue to idolise their significant other, love interests, or chase relentlessly after things they want to have – and this ends in disaster.
To conclude, one of my favourite Bible verses is Psalm 37, verse 4. It says, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart”. If we truly delight in the Lord, then that means the plans He has for us, and what He desires, will really become the desires of our heart.
Isabelle White is the Vice President Development of the ZEST Evangelical Service which operates a mission school, and facilitates the training of pastors in Vinukonda, India. Isabelle is a member of New Life Christian Church in Sydney, Australia and currently works as a French and English teacher. Isabelle was also a local government councillor at Blacktown City Council during 2012-2016.
Isabelle White’s previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/isabelle-white.html