Common English Bible (CEB)
15 Laban said to Jacob, “You shouldn’t have to work for free just because you are my relative. Tell me what you would like to be paid.”
16 Now Laban had two daughters: the older was named Leah and the younger Rachel.17 Leah had delicate eyes,[a] but Rachel had a beautiful figure and was good-looking.18 Jacob loved Rachel and said, “I will work for you for seven years for Rachel, your younger daughter.”
19 Laban said, “I’d rather give her to you than to another man. Stay with me.”
20 Jacob worked for Rachel for seven years, but it seemed like a few days because he loved her. 21 Jacob said to Laban, “The time has come. Give me my wife so that I may sleep with her.” 22 So Laban invited all the people of that place and prepared a banquet.23 However, in the evening, he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob, and he slept with her. 24 Laban had given his servant Zilpah to his daughter Leah as her servant. 25 In the morning, there she was—Leah! Jacob said to Laban, “What have you done to me? Didn’t I work for you to have Rachel? Why did you betray me?”
26 Laban said, “Where we live, we don’t give the younger woman before the oldest.27 Complete the celebratory week with this woman. Then I will give[b] you this other woman too for your work, if you work for me seven more years.” 28 So that is what Jacob did. He completed the celebratory week with this woman, and then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel as his wife.
Every year, around graduation time, there is one book that is bought and read more than almost any other one, and no, I’m not talking about the bible. I’m talking about a Dr. Seuss book that goes by the title of Oh the Places you’ll Go.
I don’t know when it was first read to me, or where I first encountered it, but I do know that around the age of 18 when I graduated, great googly moogly, was that book everywhere. At church at our senior breakfast, it was read. At the National Honor Society banquet, it was read. For about a month, I couldn’t get away from that book. Not that it’s a bad book, mind you; it’s an excellent book, well-illustrated and well written. Dr. Seuss did a fine job writing that one, and it deserves its popularity. However, there is one part of the book that sticks out in my mind, and it popped back up in my mind as I was reading the scripture text.
In the book, the narrator essentially warns the audience of all of the things they might encounter in life, all the ups and all the downs. It all builds up to this grand description of the WORST PLACE EVER. Let me read the excerpt:
You can get so confused
that you’ll start in to race
down long wiggled roads at a break-necking pace
and grind on for miles across weirdish wild space,
headed, I fear, toward a most useless place.
The Waiting Place…
…for people just waiting.
Waiting for a train to go
or a bus to come, or a plane to go
or the mail to come, or the rain to go
or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow
or waiting around for a Yes or a No
or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting.
Waiting for the fish to bite
or waiting for wind to fly a kite
or waiting around for Friday night
or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake
or a pot to boil, or a Better Break
or a sting of pearls, or a pair of pants
or a wig with curls, or Another Chance.
Everyone is just waiting.
After that, Seuss quickly moves on to the fact that NO! That place isn’t for you! Someone like you will surely break through, and get past this place where you wait. It struck me as a somewhat peculiar and, quite frankly, modern state of mind. Waiting, for Dr. Seuss, seems to be the ultimate punishment for a crime you didn’t commit, an unbearable sentence worse than death, something that surely, young one, you are not meant for.
There’s a lot that has been and can be said about our culture that is waiting averse. We hate to wait. Waiting is the worst. That’s why we’ve invented so many things to occupy our time so we don’t have to just do nothing. That’s why we carry around devices in our pockets that allow us to talk to literally anyone at any time, that can connect to the internet and entertain us with the many wonders we have made to distract us. Heck, some of us can’t even be bothered to go to the bathroom without bringing phones with us so that we can get the high score on Flappy Bird. We hate to wait. We hate waiting in our work; we want results and we want them now. We hate going to school and waiting for what seems like an unbearable amount of years in order to graduate and get on with our lives. We hate being still; we can’t be bothered. Waiting is the worst, and is valued a little bit less than having to clean up after your dog.
So it’s with this modern anti-waiting attitude in our heads we read this story of Jacob and Laban, Leah and Rachel. Waiting plays a huge part in this scripture, and sometimes that’s a good thing, despite our predisposition towards hating it. Jacob himself is characterized by not particularly enjoying waiting, either. We just saw last week how Jacob’s life was uprooted by his own doing, cheating his brother and his father out of their things. He wasn’t willing to wait for blessings that God had already promised him, and so he acted rashly and got exiled. He wound up alone, homeless, and in the desert, and he had that dream of the stairway to heaven. Jacob wakes up, and in that moment reveals that really, he hasn’t changed that much at all, despite encountering God in person. He makes a deal with God: You provide me with all the things I need, and when this is all over, I’ll give back…eh, 10 percent. Did you catch that? He had literally nothing; he makes a deal with God, asking for everything, only promising 10 percent back. How’s that for wheeling and dealing? We are reminded that Jacob is a dealer; he doesn’t like to lose. So what happens after this? Well, let’s just say Jacob meets his match in Uncle Laban.
Jacob finally gets to Laban’s property, and promptly becomes infatuated with his daughter Rachel. Well, when Laban comes up to him and asks him what kind of payment he would like in return… things get interesting. First things first: this passage is a red flag for me that I can’t ignore.
Let’s talk about this transaction of “women as payment” for a second.
Remember a couple of weeks ago when I talked about Isaac and Rebekah being married, and how marriage back then was usually less of a matter of love and more of a matter of being able to negotiate with another family well, usually for economic gain and business purposes? Yeah, well, the same deal is going on here, but Rachel and Leah have even less of a say in the business than Rebekah. At least Rebekah got the opportunity to say yes or no, and was active in the events leading up to the proposal. Here, Rachel and Leah are talked about as if they were no more human than the goats and sheep in the field.
Let’s just get this out there: this is an incredibly outdated mindset. The world has moved on from thinking of women as items of trade, because over the past 4000 years, women have gotten better at challenging this mindset. Women have spoken up, and convinced people (specifically men) that they are human, they have opinions, desires, and agency, and they deserve the right to be able to speak for themselves. Women are not objects to be traded, nor are they possessions that need to be “protected.” Women are people. Period. End of discussion. The way Jacob and Laban are discussing them are not how we are to think about women.
Now that I have that in the open, let’s continue. (I’ll try to keep my mind in the context of the biblical marriage transaction culture, but it’s going to be hard, and I in no way condone it.) Jacob makes a deal with Laban about how he is to be paid. Since he was sent to Laban so that he could marry his daughters, this seems like a reasonable payment for Jacob. The only problem is that the one he wants to be with, Rachel, is the younger, and in Laban’s house, he wants to marry off Leah first. So note the subtlety of Laban’s ploy; all he says to Jacob in response is “I’d rather you marry her than anyone else, so stay with me.” He doesn’t agree really; he just says stay with me. Jacob proceeds to work for Laban for 7 years. 7 years! That’s a big deal for a guy who hates to wait, isn’t it? He has nothing to his name though. So what does he do? He sells his time. And he waits.
All the while pining, waiting, working, sweating, all for a promise he should have worked out in more detail. Come to the end of the 7 years, and we have a great wedding—and what does Jacob do? He gets drunk he doesn’t realize that Laban pulled a switcheroo on him, and had him marry Leah instead. Jacob protests, but Laban repeats: hey, marrying the younger first is not how we do things around here. So he gets Jacob to sign on for another 7 years of labor, but this time gives Rachel to him up front.
So let’s take a step back. Jacob works for 14 years in order to get what he wants. The trickster becomes the tricked! But think about it: how many of you all had a 14 year engagement, let alone a 7 year engagement? Most engagements, both back then and now, do not take that long. Jacob is stuck working for Laban in his own version of “the waiting place.”
Honestly, this is probably the best thing that could have happened to Jacob, given the circumstances. 14 years is a long time to wait; it’s inevitable that in that time, Jacob did some growing up. (Admittedly, he’s still a trickster and cheats Laban out of his flock later on, but that’s a story for another time.) That’s one of the things I think Dr. Seuss may have gotten wrong in his diatribe against waiting. The funny thing life is that it happens in between major events. That’s how life works. The time it takes between casting a pole and catching a fish may be the time it takes for you to take in the beauty of your surroundings, or have a good chat with your daughter or son, or friend you haven’t seen in a while. The time it takes to wait for Friday night only makes Friday nights that much better; Friday would be meaningless without the time it takes to get there.
The biggest truth I get from waiting, though, is that waiting is when God tends to work the best. We are called to wait upon the Lord… and the truth is, that takes time. There is a direct correlation to how much we hate to wait and how much we need to wait. And that’s why it’s important for our faith to encompass patience. There’s a good reason why that’s the first thing that Paul describes love as in 1 Corinthians 14: Love is Patient. Love takes time. God has all the time in the world, and when we wait, we understand how important that is. God does not make mountains in a day; it takes ages for a mountain to form. Waiting builds character. Waiting builds faith.
That’s what I think we need to remember most about this story. We need to be able to be patient if we are to have good faith. We need to not get too caught up in our own desires that we trick ourselves out of greater blessings. True, there are times when things cannot wait, but often the things that have the most urgency take the most time to change. Things don’t change overnight; but I can guarantee you that you aren’t the same person you were 7 years ago, or 14 years ago. You change over time, usually for the better. To be faithful takes patience. Wait upon the Lord.