“SISTER ACT”

GENESIS 30:1-24

OCTOBER 19, 2008

 

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                   But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.   Romans 8:25

 

This morning we look at a story of two women whose goal in life was to have as many children as they could.  In fact, these two women were in competition with each other to see who could be the most prolific mother.  They wanted to be the one who stood at Sunday services on Mother’s Day who stood when the category of mother with the most children was announced.  Remember those Sunday morning Mother’s Day ceremonies at worship where the most recent mother, the oldest mother, and the mother with the most children were asked to stand and each was given a rose?  Churches do not do that as much anymore because congregations came to realize that for some women Mother’s Day had become somewhat painful because for whatever the reason – physical or relational – these women have not been able to be a mother and it hurts.  So we have abandoned those ceremonies in order to be sensitive to those who always wanted to be a mother, but were unable to do so.

So, the two women in our story were competing to have the most children and this was all complicated by the fact that these two women were sisters, and to make matters worse, they were married to the same man – our pal Jacob.  Later Mosaic Law would prohibit a man from marrying sisters, which is pretty wise counsel if you ask me, but before the prohibition it was permissible, and we pick up the action with Jacob’s wives arguing over some mandrake plants.

We left Jacob last week at Bethel.  Last Sunday we witnessed Jacob’s first encounter with God and his dream about a ladder reaching to heaven.  After this encounter Jacob continued his journey to Haran and in chapter 29 Jacob finally completes that 400 mile journey.  Since the events in chapter 29 bear upon the events in our chapter for today – especially how Jacob ended up marrying two sisters – let me summarize the 29th chapter. 

When Jacob arrived in Haran, he saw a bunch of shepherds standing around with their sheep.  Now, that bothered him because the scene looked like some sort of government public works project with a lot of people standing around not doing much of anything.  So he asked the guys, “Why don’t you water the flock and head back into the fields?”  Well, they responded by informing Jacob that the stone covering the watering hole was too big and heavy and they didn’t want to move it until it was worth their while.

Into this scene, with her family’s sheep, promenades Rachel and Jacob goes ga-ga.  It’s love at first sight and he singlehandedly roles away the stone so Rachel and her sheep can drink.  He soon discovers that Rachel is his Uncle Laban’s daughter, and first cousin or not, Jacob asks his Uncle Laban for Rachel’s hand in marriage.  Well, let’s allow the author of Genesis to tell it.  Chapter 29, verse 16,

 

Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel.  Leah’s eyes were lovely, and Rachel was graceful and beautiful.  Jacob loved Rachel; so he said, “I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.” 

 

Now note, that Jacob could have probably gotten her for a lot less, maybe a year of hard work, but in this love-sickness he pledged seven years of labor.

 

Laban said, “It is better that I give her to you than that I should give her to any other man; stay with me.”   So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.

 

Isn’t that sweet?  I’m sure that is how Trudy feels about the joy of living with me, how our 38 years of marriage seem only like days, because of the love she has for me!  OK, but back to our story.  The seven years pass and the wedding night arrives, but here things begin to get really bizarre.  On the wedding night Uncle Laban pulls a fast one on Jacob.  The deceiver gets deceived as Laban sneaks his older daughter Leah into the tent instead of Rachel and when Jacob gets up in the morning, it’s Leah’s head on the pillow not Rachel’s.  How Jacob could mistake Leah for Rachel, we’ll never know.  Maybe Jacob had a little too much champagne at the reception, or maybe Leah wore a veil, or maybe it was really dark in the tent, or maybe it was a combination of all three.  Whatever the reason, Jacob had to do the honorable thing – marry Leah – which he did, but he still loved Rachel so he pledged another seven years of hard work to get Rachel.  Laban agrees to the bargain and that’s how Jacob ended up marrying two sisters. 

And as the 30th chapter begins, we find that Leah has given birth to four boys and Rachel has given birth to zero.  So Rachel, to overcome her sister’s childbirth lead, decides to send in a pinch-hitter, her handmaiden Bilhah, whereupon Jacob has two children by her, making the score a more respectable 4 to 2 with Rachel’s team closing the gap.  Not to be outdone, Leah assigns her own designated hitter, her handmaiden Zilpah, who gives birth to two children on Leah’s behalf, and thereby extending the lead to a once again comfortable margin of 6 to 2. 

By this time Jacob probably wanted a night or two out with the boys, but that would not come to pass as our story culminates with a little episode about a mandrake plant.  Leah’s son Reuben had found two of these mandrake plants in the field and presented them to his mother.  Now we need to keep in mind that mandrake plants were considered to affect fertility and were seen as somewhat of an aphrodisiac, and Rachel, thinking they would be of use in her attempt to conceive, asks for some.  To get Leah to agree, Rachel promises she will give Jacob to her sister for the night, but the strategy backfires for it seems the mandrakes were no more an aphrodisiac than asparagus, and Leah keeps having children and the result of all this is Jacob ends up with one daughter, Dinah, and twelve sons, and in the end Rachel loses the motherhood competition, 9 to 4.  Rachel did, however, conceive and give birth to two sons – Joseph and Benjamin.

Now there is a lot to talk about here.  For example, we could talk about the biblical principle of reaping what you sow.  After all, there is poetic justice here, at least early on in chapter 29 when Laban hoodwinks Jacob just as Jacob had hoodwinked his father Isaac and his brother Esau.  This story is sobering reminder of what goes around comes around.

We could also talk about the extremes people will go to be loved.  For example, Leah and Rachel went to great extremes just to be loved and appreciated by Jacob.  Some people will put up with all sorts of abuse – physical, emotional, verbal - all because they want to be loved.  They are afraid of being rejected.

But I do not want to center our attention on either of those issues today.  Instead, I want to center our attention on the topic, “Keeping Romance Alive,” and let me mention two biases right up front.

Number one, I believe a marriage can be just as exciting and romantic after 40 years of marriage as it was during the first month of marriage – even more so.  I do not buy that line that romance and excitement fade after 45,000 loads of laundry.  It does not need to.  Listen to these words,

 

Last year I bought him Centaur for his birthday.

(They promised he’d become half-man, half-beast.)

Last year he bought me something black and lacy.

(They promised I’d go mad with lust, at least.)

 

Instead my rollers clink upon the pillow

And his big toenail scrapes against my skin.

He rises to apply a little Chap Stick.

I ask him to bring back two Bufferin.

 

Oh somewhere there are lovely little boudoirs

With Porthault sheets and canopies and quips.

He lion-hunts in Africa on weekends.

She measures thirty-three around the hips.


Their eyes engage across the brandy snifters.

He runs his fingers through her Kenneth hair.

The kids are in the other wing with nanny.

The sound of violins is everywhere.

 

In our house there’s the sound of dripping water.

It’s raining and we never patched the leak.

He grabs the mop and I get out the bucket.

We both agree to try again next week.[1]

 

It doesn’t need to be like this.  Marriage can be more than mops and buckets and Chap Stick, and that brings me to my second bias – there are no gimmicks, no quick fixes, no mandrake plants for keeping romance alive in a relationship.  Instead, it takes hard work and daily maintenance and without that hard work a marriage can crumble and crumble fast, and no one is immune, not even a pastor.

One would think that after doing all kinds of marriage counseling and performing marriage ceremonies, a pastor would know better but let me share something from my experience.  Trudy and I celebrated our 38th wedding anniversary last month, but when we celebrated our 7th anniversary we were not sure we would celebrate our eighth.  Our marriage was in trouble.  After the first seven years of our marriage something was drastically wrong, and I was scared.  I had come out of a divorced family, and I had vowed I would never get divorced, but I feared our marriage was not going to make it. 

Out of that experience we took a long hard look at what had gotten us to where we were and what we needed to do to keep from getting there again.  So we began studying friends and acquaintances who had great marriages – people who seemed to be as turned on to one another as when they were newlyweds – and out to those observations we came up with four things to do to keep romance alive in our relationship.  For those of you who want to keep the fires burning jot these down, and for those of you who might consider marriage someday, I encourage you to lobby for these four things in your relationship.  Do not settle for less.

First, continue to date, not other people, but each other.  In all my years of marriage counseling, I never had a couple come to me and say, “Pastor Meyer, help us.   We are in trouble.  We are having way too much fun together,” and the couples who have the most fun, are those who continue to date.  Some even set aside one evening a week, as their night, their date night.  It doesn’t have to be weekly, but it does need to be consistent and regular.

Second, learn each other’s language of love.  Therapists have discovered five different languages of love, and we each speak one of these languages.  The languages are 1) Words of Affirmation 2) Quality Time 3) Receiving Gifts 4) Acts of Service and 5) Physical Touch.  Trudy’s language is physical touch.  She loves hugs and holding hands.  Mine is quality time.  I like doing things with Trudy and if I don’t get her time, I feel unloved.  Do you want to find your significant other’s language of love?   Here’s how you do it.  It’s not all that hard.  Each morning ask each other this question: How can I show you I love you today, and then go and do it.   That might entail meeting each other for lunch or buying flowers or doing the dishes.  Whatever it is ask and do.  Learn to speak each other’s language of love.

Third, pray daily for each other.  Not only ask, “How can I show you I love you today?” and that’s an important way of making sure our spouse or significant other feels loved by us, but also ask, “How can I pray for you today?”  That way we know what’s coming up for our mate, and it binds a couple together.  Women know this, but most men don’t.  Men how many strands of hair does it take to hold a braid in place?  Three.  Women know that.  I discovered that fact when I tried to braid my daughters hair and could not, and the same applies to marriage.  Christ is the third partner that holds a relationship together.

And finally, believe in each other.

Anne Morrow was shy and delicate.  She was timid and retiring in person and then she fell in love with Charles Lindbergh – nicknamed Lucky Lindy – who was news wherever he went.  He was a national hero and friends and family feared that Anne would be eclipsed by Charles, but she wasn’t.  Instead, she went on to become one of America’s most popular authors, a person highly admired in her own right.  How?  Listen to what she said,

 

The man I married believed in me and what I could do and consequently I found I could do more than I realized.

 

And seldom has the world seen a couple more in love than Charles and Anne Lindbergh. 

To believe in each other creates feelings of affection and affirmation that are difficult to duplicate anywhere else.  If anything is an aphrodisiac it is not a mandrake plant, but a belief in each other and one of the things that draws me to Trudy is her incredible belief and faith in me.

Well, those are the four.  And let me tell you from personal experience, when Trudy and I are hitting on all four cylinders, we can hardly keep our eyes off one another.



[1]Judith Viorst, Necessary Loses (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1986), 189.

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